A bitterly contested wind farm proposed for Goodhue County [Minnesota] got the go-ahead Wednesday to pursue a permit that would allow it to legally kill or injure eagles, in what could be the first case of federal authorities issuing a license to kill the protected national symbol.
The 48-turbine project would kill at most eight to 15 eagles a year, a number that would not harm the local population, federal officials said in a letter to state regulators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said its estimate does not include possible strategies to reduce the number of eagles killed and, that if a permit is eventually granted, the goal would be a much lower figure.
At most eight to 15! Could be as few as six chopped-up bits of Americana!
Bird deaths are one of the most common arguments used by opponents of wind energy. Case in point:
Wind turbines are not only killing millions of birds, they are killing the finances & environment of many countries & communities.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2012
A number of studies have suggested that the damage done to bird populations by wind energy is small, though real. Nor is the fossil fuel industry safe from similar critique; one study suggests that half a million to a million birds die each year at oil producing facilities. Even Trump’s beloved skyscrapers are likely responsible for more bird deaths than wind farms. But bird deaths are a persistent exaggeration, in part because it’s tangible and gruesome, in part because opponents of wind energy continue to harp on it.
Which is why this story, coming on the heels of a very bad year for the industry, is not good news. Not only is a wind farm in the news for killing birds, and not only is it in the news for killing recently endangered birds, and not only is it in the news for getting a permit to kill recently endangered birds — it is killing bald eagles.* It’s like the plot to a bad Rocky and Bullwinkle movie: Boris and Natasha start a vind farm so that zey can kill zose American birds. It’s a giant gift to opponents of wind and of the president: Obama’s Fish and Wildlife Service gives his green cronies the OK to murder bald eagles. It’s almost enough to make me want to hold a sign covered with tea bags outside the White House.
Proponents of the farm and the government have suggested steps to ameliorate the problem.
In an interview, [Fish and Wildlife field supervisor Tony] Sullins said possibilities include moving turbines away from risky spots, turning them off during migrations or other times when there are a lot of eagles in the area, and removing animal carcasses and roadkill, which are a major food source for the birds.
“[The company] has put on the table a lot of things they are willing to discuss,” Sullins said Wednesday. The company has said that it estimates a kill of one eagle per year.
Only one? Now that they have that cool permit, they can go for an extra seven to 14. Have some fun with it, guys!
If the farm is built, there will be another risk factor: The constant hordes of wind industry opponents and right-wing shills tramping around beneath the turbines, looking for that one dead eagle. When they find it, a quick photo shoot, then it gets stuffed and mounted and installed in John Boehner’s office, and Boehner looks at it and weeps at least until we get past the midterms.
* Correction: As the American Wind Energy Association points out, bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007; we originally identified the birds as currently endangered.