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Leading Bird Group Wants the New DOI Secretary to Review Possible Revised Rule

Bald Eagle by George Gentry USFWS

Leading Bird Group Wants the New Department of the Interior Secretary to Review Possible Revised Rule Weakening Eagle Protections for Wind Industry
by Terry Weiner

In a press release February 19, 2013, the American Bird Conservancy called on the Department of Interior to suspend further consideration of a revised rule that would weaken protections provided to eagles pursuant to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act by allowing private companies to apply for an unprecedented 30-year permit to kill these iconic species

The Desert Protective Council supports the American Bird Conservancy’s request to shelve the rule until President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior has had time to fully review the proposal and evaluate its potential long-term impacts on eagle populations.

Background on this important issue:

Last year, the renewable energy industry and several of America’s largest conservation groups sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior asking for improvements in Bald and Golden eagle take permitting and eagle conservation. Since then, meetings with federal agencies, the wind industry, and large conservation groups that signed the letter have taken place, but they have not been open to the public.  The Desert Protective Council recently received the notes from one of the meetings:11/12 Eagle Research Meeting Notes

We are concerned because these meeting notes raise several troubling issues.
•The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is “to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.” Yet the purpose of the meeting, as stated by a senior official of the USFWS, was to enable wind energy projects to get permitted. Enabling wind energy projects is not a focus on wildlife conservation and would seem more in keeping with the mission of the U.S. Department of Energy.

•Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, it is illegal to kill or disturb eagles without an eagle take permit. The current eagle take permit regulations state that eagle take has to be avoided and minimized until it is unavoidable before a programmatic take permit can be issued. The discussion during this meeting does not reference avoiding and minimizing eagle take until it is unavoidable. Instead, the discussion is more along the lines of where can research be conducted where eagles will be killed in order to have useful sample size.  This appears inconsistent with current regulation.

•This meeting may have violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The meeting group is providing advice and recommendations to be utilized by a federal agency, but no Federal Advisory Committee has been established. Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Federal Advisory Committees have to be formally established, membership has to be balanced, and notice has been published in the Federal Register.

•This meeting offered an opportunity to certain interested parties to comment to USFWS on the subject of two open rulemakings, outside of the public comment period that closed in April 2012.  (See the rulemakings at www., docket #FWS-R9-MB-2011-0054 and docket #FWS-R9-MB-2011-0094.) There are nearly 700 public submissions posted for the dockets of those two rulemakings, so it is highly discriminatory to only allow a small handful of interested parties the opportunity for additional comment to USFWS in regard to eagle take permitting. In addition, this meeting would be considered ex parte communications under the Department of Interior’s Departmental Manual, which are strongly discouraged: