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Eagle conservation and wind power go hand in hand

Protecting America’s wildlife is one of my deepest passions; it’s a big part of why I’ve devoted my career to safeguarding our nation’s natural heritage. President Nixon once correctly pointed out that “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed”.

No species is more emblematic of America than the bald eagle. Once facing extinction, these magnificent birds have rebounded nicely, thanks in large part to protective laws like the Endangered Species Act and a ban on the pesticide DDT. Seeing a bald eagle is much easier today than it used to be. In fact, there is a nesting pair just down the street from my home.

{mosads}Despite this good news, a number of looming threats could reverse our progress. According to scientists, one of the largest threats to eagles—and many other species of wildlife—is climate change. The Audubon Society says that over 300 different bird species, including eagles, are at risk because of rising temperatures, which could cause them to lose up to half of their ranges by 2080.

It would be heartbreaking to go backward and see eagle populations decline after all of the hard work we’ve put into bringing the species back from the brink. Just as we rose to the challenge in the 1970s to protect the eagles and overcome a host of environmental threats, we need to do the same today with climate change.

Fortunately, we have the ability to stop climate change in its tracks. Relying more on renewable energy, and in particular wind power, is a big part of the answer. By reducing pollution and helping to stop climate change, wind power is one of the best ways to protect eagles and the hundreds of other bird species at risk.

That’s why it was so disappointing to see egregious misreporting in the media about a recent proposed rule change to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s eagle conservation program. Far too many reports—likely prompted by the rhetoric of competing energy interests—linked eagle impacts and wind turbines, when in fact the rule applied to a number of different industries. Wind farms are responsible for only a fraction of eagle fatalities – 95 percent come from other sources.

As U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe explained: The truth is, thousands of eagles die every year for a variety of reasons — most from natural causes. The vast majority of human-caused deaths result from intentional poisoning and shooting — federal crimes that we aggressively investigate and prosecute. Most other eagle deaths are caused by collisions – with cars, buildings, power lines and other structures. Wind energy facilities represent a fraction of these deaths, and the media’s singular focus on wind turbines is a gross distortion of the truth.

In reality, wind energy has the lowest impact on wildlife and their habitats of any source of energy, as detailed in a 2009 study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which analyzed the lifecycle impacts of the six major forms of energy generation. The report concluded “non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind.”

As an emission free energy source, wind power helps us address climate change, which is one of the biggest threats currently facing eagles. In 2015, wind displaced the equivalent of 28 million cars’ worth of carbon pollution. Through 2050, it could help avoid $400 billion in climate change damages. On top of that, diversifying our energy mix with wind improves our energy security and helps keep electricity prices low.

All energy sources, and really all human activities, impact wildlife. But it’s crucial to look at the larger picture, weighing the positives and negatives before we make decisions.

If we’re serious about continuing to ensure we conserve eagle populations, we must cut CO2 pollution. And there is no doubt that generating more of America’s electricity with responsibly-sited wind farms who work with federal regulators to obtain conservation-based permits helps us achieve that goal. There is no question in my mind: protecting eagles and growing wind power need to go hand-in-hand.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.


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