When it comes to protecting the population of some indigenous wildlife, the federal government has thrown the ball into the court of local activists.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, capitulating to wind power developers and ignoring environmentalists, relaxed its rules in December on issuing permits to wind farm operators. Whereas such permits had to be renewed every five years, they now can be extended for up to three decades.
The problem is that some wind farms are located near the nesting areas of raptors. By siting the turbines near bodies of water, they have the potential of intruding on the flyways of eagles, hawks and other birds as well as bats. This has implications for the eagles that nest along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
The eagle take permits allow wind farm operators to unintentionally kill a limited number of eagles without penalty under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Before the rule change, wind turbine operators located within a 43-mile radius of bald eagle nesting areas, and within 140 miles of golden eagle nests, were required to obtain new permits every five years from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to a Friday story in the Watertown Daily Times. The loosened law means operators now may hold permits without any major challenges for 30 years. Fish and Wildlife will review permits every five years to ensure they meet conditions, and operators are expected to report any problems.
This situation pits different members of the conservation movement against each other.
Those determined to ensure the continued growth of the eagle populations in the north country are concerned that the federal government is taking a more hands-off approach to monitoring problems. But some proponents of renewable energy believe the law change was necessary to assure potential investors that wind farms can be relied upon as good places to put their money by limiting possible disruptions every few years.
Protecting birds in the north country, particularly eagles, is crucial. After falling precipitously in the 1950s and 60s, the local eagle population has steadily rebounded.
Lee H. Harper, a Massena ornithologist, said the number of bald eagles that have established nesting sites in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties along the St. Lawrence River has grown in recent years. Within 15 miles of his Massena residence, for example, four nesting sites have been established in the past five to 10 years, according to Fridays story.
The bald eagle population in the north country and across the state has climbed steadily over the past three decades, according to statistics from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the story reported. Today, about 100 bald eagles migrate south from Canada to winter along the St. Lawrence River and surrounding area, where the population is stable, said Stephen W. Litwhiler, DEC spokesman for Region 6. A 2010 study conducted by DEC found nine nesting territories in St. Lawrence County, three in Jefferson County, none in Lewis County and 10 in Franklin County.
At the same time, creating renewable, affordable sources of energy is important to slow concerns of global warming. The problem, however, is that neither wind nor solar energy can be developed in a cost-effective manner. Each require significant federal and local tax subsidies to keep these projects going.
Granted, the oil industry has had plenty of assistance from the federal government over the years financial and otherwise. And renewable energy proponents want a level playing field.
But they have to show that energy from these sources can be sold at costs that can sustain the development of the necessary equipment, all the while competing with the price of oil and gas. So far, that hasnt happened.
Its now up to local activists to press the case for preserving the local bird populations and keep the accidental deaths of eagles to a minimum. Under these new rules, the federal government may amend wind farm permits if the kill numbers are high. We all have a stake in seeing our eagle population increase, so we all need to be vigilant in reviewing how many deaths are being caused by wind turbines and raising our voices in protest when its obvious that some farms have exceeded their limit.