Wind farms will be granted 30-year U.S. government permits that could allow for thousands of accidental eagle deaths due to collisions with company turbines, towers and electrical wires, U.S. wildlife managers said on Wednesday.
The newly finalized rule, to go into effect on Jan. 15, extends the current five-year term for permits that allow for the accidental deaths of bald and golden eagles. The bald eagle is the national emblem of the United States.
The permits, which are meant for any activity that could disturb or kill eagles but will mostly apply to wind farms, are required under federal law.
Wind energy companies had sought the change from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, arguing they needed the longer permits to provide more stability to investors in the growing renewable power industry.
In 2013, the agency approved a similar plan extending “eagle-take” permits to 30 years, but a U.S. judge overturned it last year. The judge agreed with conservation groups that the agency had failed to properly assess the impact on federally protected eagle populations.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the growth in many sectors of the U.S. energy industry coincides with a rising number of bald eagles as well as an apparent decline in golden eagles.
The agency concluded that the population of roughly 40,000 golden eagles in the United States could withstand the loss of about 2,000 birds annually. Bald eagles, estimated at more than 140,000, could sustain as many as 4,200 fatalities a year without endangering the species, it found.
The number of eagles killed each year at wind facilities is not precisely known, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 545 golden eagles are thought to perish annually from collisions with obstacles ranging from turbines to vehicles, the agency said.
The American Wind Energy Association said it hoped the new rule would provide “a workable permitting framework that gives the private sector necessary clarity” while maintaining healthy eagle populations.