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Wind energy is killing golden eagles in central Nevada – more projects planned

Basin and Range Watch and Wildlands Defense|Kevin Emmerich and Katie Fite|December 22, 2023
NevadaImpact on Birds

Nevada’s first wind energy project, Spring Valley Wind, was built on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands adjacent to Great Basin National Park in a sensitive location for wildlife. Eight golden eagles are known to have been killed at the project, along with many other species of birds since its approval in 2011. Recently obtained Freedom of Information Act documents show the last 6 eagle kills, which have all gone undetected by the news media and environmental organizations. These 6 eagle deaths, were not publicly disclosed by the Interior Department.


Nevada’s first wind energy project, Spring Valley Wind, was built on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands adjacent to Great Basin National Park in a sensitive location for wildlife. Eight golden eagles are known to have been killed at the project, along with many other species of birds since its approval in 2011. Recently obtained Freedom of Information Act documents show the last 6 eagle kills, which have all gone undetected by the news media and environmental organizations. These 6 eagle deaths, were not publicly disclosed by the Interior Department.
 
Golden eagles are protected by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the BGEPA, the second offense for injuring or killing eagles can carry with it a sentence of two years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. It’s illegal to kill or harm eagles under the BGEPA and migratory bird act. But many industries, including the wind industry, have lobbied against enforcing protections. After 12 years of operation, the Spring Valley Wind project still does not have a take permit to kill eagles. A “take” under the Eagle Act is defined as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, destroy, molest, or disturb.” A taking must be consistent with the two objectives of maintaining or increasing eagle breeding populations nationwide and the persistence of local populations throughout each species’ geographic range to satisfy this eagle preservation standard.
 
Construction of the Spring Valley Wind Project was completed in 2012 on 7,700 acres of public lands. The project contains 66 wind turbines each 400 feet tall. Although the project developer, Pattern Energy, claimed the location was chosen because it was in the most benign location for raptors, the project has proven to be deadly for golden eagles and other avian species. It was also built close to a known bat roost cave, and has biological significance for large numbers of Mexican free-tail bats. The project was built in an essential golden eagle winter foraging area. The wind farm is adjacent to Bahsahwahbee the Newe (Western Shoshone) swamp cedar sacred site, with a rare population of Rocky Mountain junipers, where brutal government massacres took place.
 
“Federal permitting agencies have never completely resolved the threats industrial wind turbines inflict on golden eagles”. Said Kevin Emmerich, Co-Founder of Basin and Range Watch. “Now, over a decade after Spring Valley Wind was approved, we have had to use a Freedom of Information Act Request just to get the BLM to tell us about the last 6 eagle kills from this project. The project was sited in a wildlife hot spot and has proven to be deadly for bats, raptors, and other migrating birds.”
 
In 2022, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were 31,800 golden eagles in the Western U.S. and 2,200 killed yearly by human causes.
 
Populations of Golden Eagles in Nevada have been significantly declining in recent years. Golden eagles are particularly vulnerable to wind energy because they fly at the same elevations as the turbine blades, often follow ridges where wind projects are built, and don’t see the fast-moving tips of the turbine blades. But it is not just wind energy causing these declines. The region is being targeted for 3 new transmission projects and there are several strip-mines that have removed foraging habitat for golden eagles.
 
Now BLM plans to speed the environmental review of the proposed Arevia Power Stagecoach Wind Project near Eureka under the controversial federal FAST-41 permitting process and has temporarily withdrawn 70,000 acres (109 square miles) from mineral entry to facilitate the proposed wind farm The Stagecoach Wind site is another wildlife hot spot, home to golden eagles, sage grouse, ferruginous hawks, pinyon jays and many sensitive sagebrush species. It would dwarf the footprint of Spring Valley Wind, with 655 feet tall turbines, many miles of new roads and a new 30-mile powerline. In addition, BLM is reviewing applications for 3 other wind energy proposals in White Pine County, all on public lands. These are Aquilo Wind located in Snake Valley on the Utah border, Connect Gen Northwestern Wind, Jakes Valley, and Connect Gen Northwestern Wind, Robinson Wind Project.
 
In 2022, a major wind energy developer, Nextera, pleaded guilty to killing at least 150 eagles at its wind projects in 8 western states.
 
Despite such high known levels of eagle take, the Biden Administration is proposing to streamline wind energy approval by making eagle permits automatic with approval of wind projects.
 
The Fish and Wildlife Service has told us that they will be releasing an Environmental Assessment sometime next year that will issue golden eagle take permits for the Spring Valley Wind Project.
 
Katie Fite, Public Lands Director with WildLands Defense, stated: “We’re alarmed at the impact remote-sited industrial wind projects will have on the region’s declining golden eagles and other struggling wildlife populations. Booming gold and other hard rock mines here are already killing many eagles through habitat loss, disturbance and vehicle mortality. Yet the Interior Department is blindly hitting the accelerator treating these fragile, biodiverse Nevada public lands as a sacrifice zone to industry profit, with power to be exported to urban areas far away in a renewable energy free for all”.
 
Basin and Range Watch is a nonprofit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wild lands of the desert.
 
Wildlands Defense works to inspire and empower the preservation of wild lands, wildlife and biodiversity in the West.

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