OC submits comments on eagle incidental take permits

The Ornithological Council submitted comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the agency’s recent proposal to change to its process for issuing permits for the incidental take of bald and golden eagles. The agency first announced its plans to streamline the permitting process in September 2021.

The proposed rule would create general permits for four activities: wind-energy generation projects, power line infrastructure, disturbance of breeding bald eagles, and bald eagle nest take. Those whose activities fall into one of those categories would be required to register with the USFWS and self-certify compliance with permit conditions. Individual permits will be available for any project that does not qualify for one of the proposed general permits.

The Ornithological Council’s comments support the development of a new permitting scheme, but offered a number of comments and suggestions for the agency to consider as it moves toward finalizing the rule. While the proposal would eliminate the need for independent third party monitoring, the OC’s comments expressed concerned about a permitting scheme that would rely solely on permittees performing regular monitoring and self-reporting eagle deaths. We believe that independent monitoring is essential and that the cost should be borne by the permittee. Monitors should be qualified biologists who are trained in a standard methodology that has been peer-reviewed and field-tested.

The comments also encouraged that permit conditions should provide that all carcasses and bird parts must be collected and preserved according to established protocols. All carcasses and parts that are not needed by the USFWS for law enforcement purposes or for the National Eagle repository, or by Tribes, should be offered to museums and ornithologists for research.

The OC also encouraged the agency to put in place standard permits conditions that would allow systematic monitoring at their project sites by USFWS staff or contractors. Further, permit conditions should encourage access for researchers to study the effects of their projects on all migrator birds, not just eagles. Some wind energy facilities may cause substantial  avian mortality, and access for research can be difficult to secure. A better understanding of avian mortality and the behavioral changes associated with wind turbines, would benefit the agency, the permit holder, and the birds themselves.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits any take of bald eagles and golden eagles, except as permitted by federal regulations. Pursuant to regulations, “take” is defined as to pursue, shoot, shoot at, kill, capture, trap, molest, or disturb (50 CFR 22.3). Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to issue regulations that permit the taking of eagles for various purposes, as long as such take is compatible with the preservation of the eagle.

The USFWS also published rules regarding eagle incidental take in 2009, revising them in 2016.