The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its draft environmental assessment of a request from West Butte Wind Power, LLC, for a permit that would allow for the "take" of golden eagles at the company's proposed wind project in central Oregon.
"Take" means to kill, harass or disturb the birds, their nests or their eggs. The Service will consider take permits when commitments are made for conservation measures that benefit eagle populations.
Comments on the draft EA will be accepted until Feb. 2.
This is the first application the Service has received from a proposed wind project for a take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Regulations adopted in 2009 enabled the agency to authorize, for the first time, take of eagles for activities that are otherwise lawful but that result in either disturbance or mortality. Since then, guidelines for issuing the permits to wind projects have been developed. Permits are only issuable under circumstances that ultimately guarantee the conservation of eagle populations.
The West Butte permit, if issued, would allow the take of up to three golden eagles over a period of five years as long as the company fulfills its conservation commitments.
In cooperation with the Service, the company has developed an avian and bat conservation plan and an eagle conservation plan that describe actions that have been taken to initially avoid and minimize and then mitigate for any remaining adverse effects to eagles.
If the permit is granted, there must be no net loss to breeding populations of golden eagles. The proposed wind project, consisting of up to 52 turbines about 30 miles east of Bend, is in an area of low use by golden eagles.
"Our goal is to maintain stable or increasing populations of eagles protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act," said Chris McKay, Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds and State Programs in the Service's Pacific Region. "Regulations under the Act allow us to issue permits for activities that are likely to take eagles provided the activity is otherwise lawful and the taking is not the purpose of that activity, the take is unavoidable even though advanced conservation practices are being implemented, and the take is compatible with eagle preservation."
The Service says it is working with conservation partners and the wind energy industry to find solutions to reduce the number of eagle mortalities at wind projects, reduce other sources of eagle mortality, and bolster eagle populations through other conservation measures.
West Butte Wind Power's eagle conservation plan outlines advanced conservation practices and measures to avoid and minimize impacts, assesses risk, makes commitments for mitigating eagle mortalities and makes commitments for monitoring bird mortality after the project is built. If the permit is granted, these conservation commitments would become conditions of the permit.
The Service would review the permit every five years to ensure the project was complying with the conditions.
The draft EA analyzes three alternatives:
-- A no-action alternative, which means a permit would not be issued;
-- A five-year permit for the take of up to three golden eagles, over the five years, that incorporates all conservation commitments described in the company's Eagle Conservation Plan;
-- A five-year permit as above but with additional conditions that address monitoring, research and mitigation that might further reduce take.
As part of its application, the company has committed to a number of conservation measures, regardless of whether eagles are killed, that should conserve eagles and other raptors. These include, among other things, upgrading 11 power poles per year within a 10-mile radius to meet avian protection standards for the life of the project. Electrocutions from electric utility lines that are older, with inadequate spacing between lines conducting electricity, are a major cause of eagle mortality in the West.
The Notice of Availability of the draft EA was published in the Federal Register. The full text of the draft EA can be downloaded at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/migratorybirds/nepa.html