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US developer praised over plans to protect golden eagles

Pacific Wind Power, the developer of the 104MW West Butte project in Oregon, has asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for permission to “take” up to three golden eagles every five years while operating the project.

The term “take” covers everything from disturbing an animal, its nest or eggs, to harassing, injuring and even killing it.

Pacific is the first developer in the US to make such a request.

A number of bird advocacy groups support the application, made under regulations added to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in 2009 that allow wildlife officials to grant permits for limited “taking” resulting from legal activities — such as operating a wind turbine.

The permits are part of an effort to protect the eagles while advancing “well-sited wind-energy projects and other environmentally responsible renewable-energy developments”, states the FWS.

The “take” must be “unavoidable, even though advanced conservation practices are being implemented”, says Chris McKay of the FWS. Permits can be issued only if the developer takes steps to ensure “no net loss to breeding populations of golden eagles”.

West Butte is rarely visited by golden eagles, a species that is not endangered. The developer has also drafted protection plans for bats and other species — described by the FWS as “the foundation of responsible wind-energy project development” — and pledged to upgrade power poles.

The FWS says “electrocution from older utility lines, with inadequate spacing between lines conducting electricity, is a major cause of eagle mortality”.

The FWS issued a draft environmental assessment of the West Butte request, which is open for public comment until 2 February.

* Forbes magazine has reported that wind projects may pose a risk to the California condor, which was on the brink of extinction in the 1980s, but now thrives in the wild — especially in Tehachapi Pass, a centre of wind development.