In Victory for Eagles, USFWS Gives Up Fight for 30-Year Take Permits

The government just dropped its latest effort to give longer-term take permits to wind farms and other companies.

Eagles just scored a big victory in the courts. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped an appeal it was pursuing in support of 30-year “take” permits that allow wind farms and other industries to disturb and kill Bald and Golden Eagles, as long as they take steps to protect the raptors. The appeal was part of a legal battle over the agency’s 2013 move to extend the length of these take permits’ validity by 25 years.

The 2013 rule extended five-year take permits, administered under 2009’s Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, to a maximum length of 30 years with periodic check-ins. But in 2015 a federal judge sent the rule back to the drawing board, saying that the agency had not assessed the possible environmental impacts of extending the permit length as required by law.

The government initially appealed this court decision, but now has dropped its appeal. While USFWS did not provide a reason why they were dropping the appeal, the extended permit period has been met with substantial criticism. When it was first introduced, the proposal was criticized for allowing companies to self-report deaths and giving too much leeway to harm birds. It was also somewhat vague, stating that USFWS would work with companies to use “advanced conservation practices” if projects continued to kill eagles, but it never specified what these practices were.

“The eagle-killing rule was a bad idea from the day it was proposed,” says Mike Daulton, Audubon's vice president for policy and strategy. “It's time to start over and write a rule that will give America's eagles the protections they deserve.”

Although no take permits have been given so far, this issue is crucial for the future protection of these species as wind power continues to grow. The share of U.S. electricity generated by wind increased from 1 percent in 2007 to about 5 percent in 2015, and tax credits and falling costs are expected to accelerate this growth going forward.  

The debate over these permits highlights the complex considerations involved in wind power, a renewable energy source that reduces carbon emissions, but can pose a threat to birds and their habitats. Siting turbine farms so that they are not in high-traffic bird flight areas can mitigate this risk.

Read more about Audubon’s position on wind power here.