The real threat to eagles

Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) made public its plan to make changes to a permitting program that allows for the accidental death of eagles in connection with a variety of activities. The underlying program was authorized by the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule, conceptualized during the George W. Bush administration in 2007, originating in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which became law decades ago.

My friend, Dave Yarnold, president of Audubon, recently took issue with the proposed rule as it pertains to wind turbines in an op-ed.  A year ago, ConservAmerica collaborated with Audubon on the American Eagle Compact, a successful effort to reach out to conservative citizens on conservation issues impacting eagles.

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The wind energy industry accounts for just 2 percent of golden eagle mortality from human causes. Eagles face much greater threats, with higher mortality rates, in the form of cars, power lines, lead poisoning, drowning in livestock watering tanks, illegal shootings. Yarnold correctly points out the most serious threat to eagles, and other wildlife, is climate change.

The USFWS decision aims at a common-sense solution on how best to balance the interests of the American people with domestic energy production and the need to protect our beloved wildlife. Every human activity has some form of environmental impact, which means we will always need to balance protecting the environment with responsibly taking advantage of our natural resources.

For generations, from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, Republicans have taken the lead on a wide range of environmental and natural resource issues. This has been true for many different reasons--recreational, economic, and even religious. President Reagan once said, "I believe in a sound, strong environmental policy that protects the health of our people and a wise stewardship of our nation's natural resources."

In that spirit of common sense, Republicans should lead this conversation too.

We can develop clean energy that benefits us economically, and do so in a way that increases the number of eagles because of the conservation steps needed to qualify for a permit.

American wind power helps curb the biggest threat to wildlife. Today, installed U.S. wind power avoids 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually - the equivalent of taking more than 17 million cars off the road.

In addition, developing wind power and other renewables benefits us economically as much as environmentally. Last year alone, American wind power attracted $25 billion in private investment. Today, it supports 80,000 jobs and relies on a manufacturing supply chain across 44 states, making over 70 percent of the parts that go into wind turbines here in the USA.

And, a 2008 U.S. Department of Energy report found American wind power can support 500,000 jobs by 2030.

Developing energy from America's abundant renewable natural resources must be our priority, not only for the tremendous economic benefits it yields but because it's one of the best tools available to help conserve wildlife, including eagles.

Sisson is president of ConservAmerica, a national nonprofit group which works to continue the Republican party's conservation tradition, grounded in the conservative ethic of stewardship.