The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits the take of bald and golden eagles throughout the United States, except where federal regulations allow it through permits. Following the delisting of the bald eagle from the endangered species list in 2007, in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) established two new permit types for the take of eagles and eagle nests:
- One permit authorizes the take of eagle nests
- The other permit authorizes incidental take as part of otherwise lawful activity.
To receive an Eagle Take Permit (ETP), a company must complete an Eagle Conservation Plan (ECP). Eagle Conservation Plans outline what is known about eagle use of the wind facility and the steps the developer plans to take to understand, avoid, minimize, and mitigate eagle impacts (usually collisions) at the facility. The ECP is the document that estimates potential take and helps facilitate receiving an ETP. The ETP protects the developer from prosecution should eagle collisions occur at the wind facility up to the amount of take authorized by the permit.
Eagle Conservation Plan Project Summary
Due to concerns about bald eagles colliding with wind facilities at an Oklahoma wind facility, my colleagues and I worked with a wind developer to develop an ECP for bald eagles for the facility. Golden eagles were not a concern at this wind facility. Eagle Conservation Plans are typically written in stages, including the following sections:
- Stage 1: project overview, an overview of applicable laws, current distribution, and quantify existing habitat on the site
- Stage 2: methods and results of any site-specific surveys done for eagles at the site
- Stage 3: any models to predict the number of eagle fatalities per year given the pre-construction data
- Stage 4: description of any advanced conservation practices and compensatory mitigation that the wind facility is willing to do if eagles are killed (this is often implemented in stages depending on the amount of mortality)
- Stage 5: Post-construction monitoring plans and reporting schedule
- Adaptive management and public outreach sections are optional but recommended.
For our team to complete this ECP, we held numerous meetings between us, the developers, and the USFWS to agree about
- The field work necessary to determine eagle use of the wind facility
- The minimization and mitigation measures that would be acceptable to both the developer and the USFWS, and
- A take estimate based on the eagle activity at the site and a collision risk model.
The final ECP was submitted to the USFWS in October 2012.
Eagle Take Permitting Updates
Since the completion of this project in 2012, two notable updates have occurred concerning the eagle take permitting process.
The USFWS proposed revisions to the eagle take permitting regulations to further increase the permitting process’s efficiency. The changes include the following:
- A new option for a general take permit for wind energy projects, power lines, and disturbance take for eagles and nests. This would be accomplished by developing a standardized approach to permitting and not requiring detailed site-specific studies and analysis.
- Remove the third-party monitoring requirement from eagle incidental take permits
- Change permit fees and clarify terminology
The USFWS released a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) analyzing the effects of five alternatives for updating eagle management and permit regulations. The aim was to streamline regulatory review and compliance for projects that may incidentally take eagles while still protecting eagles. This was accomplished primarily through the following means:
- Extend the maximum permit timeline from 5 to 30 years
- Update the Eagle Management Unit boundaries to better reflect regional migratory patterns and populations of bald eagles and golden eagles
- Imposed pre-construction monitoring requirements for wind-energy projects
- Require cumulative take analysis from authorized and known-unauthorized take
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance: Module 1 – Land-based Wind Energy. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Migratory Bird Management, Washington D.C., USA. <https://www.fws.gov/guidance/sites/guidance/files/documents/eagleconservationplanguidance.pdf>. Accessed 10 Dec 2022.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2016. Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the eagle rule revision. Division of Migratory Bird Management, Washington D.C. <https://www.fws.gov/sites/default/files/documents/programmatic-environmental-impact-statement-permits-to-incidentally-take-eagles.pdf>. Accessed 10 Dec 2022.