Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


By Miriam Raftery

April 19, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) –  David Bittner, eagle expert with Wildlife Research Institute, pled guilty to federal charges of unlawful taking of a Golden Eagle without a permit and failing to file any data reports for a four-year period on birds that he had banded. 

Bittner conducted studies on Golden Eagles for Iberdrola’s Tule Wind project in East County, which was approved by the federal government on public lands as well as by the county on private properties. Portions of the project on state and tribal lands, where several Golden Eagle nests were reported, are pending approvals by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and State Lands Commission.

“Can those agencies rely on Bittner’s Golden Eagle work for Tule wind that was apparently unpermitted and unlawful?” asks Donna Tisdale, chair of Boulevard Planning Group and a founder of two citizens groups, Protect Our Communities Foundation and Backcountry Against Dumps, that has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the project.  “What other breaches of law or professional ethics might be involved?”

She added, “We will be following up with this new information in our federal complaint filed against federal approvals of Tule Wind permits.”

Terry Weiner with the Desert Protective Council called today's announcement "disturbing news. Dave Bittner has had a good reputation in the conservation community," she noted, but added, "I would think that that Dave's guilty plea that he was working without a permit and did not file reports would result in all of his work on this project being unusable." 

Weiner believes this revelation should result in the BIA and other agencies having to go back and "do this essential research again.  I would think that the state and federal agencies should put this project on hold," she added.

Bittner could face up to one year in custody and/or a $100,000 fine for his actions. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Bartick (Case #13cr1391-W)

In a press release issued April 18, 2013, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy announced that the Bittner, a Julian resident, had been denied renewal of a federal bird banding permit that expired January 31, 2010 because he failed to report any data for birds he banded  since October 31, 2006.

“The lack of data is particularly troubling because it is just this sort of data from permit holders that permits the U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service to monitor the health of the eagle populations within the United States, the release notes.  Despite lacking a permit, Bittner continued to capture and band 144 migratory birds in the region, including at least one female Golden Eagle.

Unlike Bald Eagles, which have rebounded in population after the insecticide DDT was banned, Golden Eagle populations have dropped, Bittner himself has acknowledged. Golden Eagles are listed as threatened species and any “take” is prohibited, including any disturbance that could cause injury or interfere with breeding, feeding or sheltering behavior including nest abandonment.

U.S. Attorney Duffy concluded, It is a sacred trust to preserve our natural heritage for future generations. This trust mandates that we observe both the spirit and leter of laws designed to protect the environment.”

Wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand says the missing data raises some key questions. "What was the purpose and terms stated with the original permit?  What was the banding data that Bittner not provide? " he asked in an e-mail sent to ECM. "This could be extremely important.  If it was GPS then it could be that the data showed eagles flying right into wind farms and never coming out. It is also possible that the banding data may coincide with eagles found dead (with bands) at wind farms.  Maybe he actually banded very few eagles but made it look like he did for to create the illusion that there are lots of eagles. Lastly pleading guilty could be the lesser of two evils for his institute WRI to receive funding from wind interests and mitigation money from installed wind farms."

Mark Duchamp with Save the Eagles International had this to say when asked for comment.  "Essential info is missing: is the eagle dead?

If the eagle is neither dead nor injured, the ornithologist could argue that banding an eagle is not "disturbing," he observed. "Or did he do more than banding? Did he, for instance, put a radio-tracking device on the eagle's back...In Scotland, two golden eagles died as a result of radio tracking for a feasibility study for a windfarm project in their breeding area. The windfarm was built. Its name? - Beinn Ghlas. But the news of that never made it to the media. I reported it in my article.  Anything you put on a bird's back messes its feathers, and over time affect their waterproof qualities. This can kill any bird," he added, citing risk of pneumonia when a bird gets wet.

This is not the first time that questions have been raised about Bittner.  His Wildlife Research Institute recently published a report concluding golden eagle population declined 50 percent in San Diego County in recent years.

However, that report blamed hikers encroaching on nesting areas as the main cause, failing to mention wind projects as posing any threat to eagles locally although wind projects elsewhere have slaughtered many eagles, as ECM previously reported.  Notoriously, the Altamont wind project in northern California has killed thousands of Golden Eagles.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated that wind turbines kill almost half a million birds each year, though some studies sugest the number could be as high as 39 million birds, San Diego Loves Green has reported

Bittner also claims to have conducted 600 helicopter surveys of local Golden Eagles since 1996.  So where is the data he collected? He has estimated that San Diego has around 46 nesting pairs of Golden Eagles, though wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand has indicated he believes the number could be far lower.

Wiegand estimates the Golden Eagle population has declined 80 to 90 percent in California in recent years – and he believes wind turbines are the primary cause.  “No Golden Eagles have nested in the 86 square mile boundaries of Altamont Pass since at least 1989,” he told San Diego Loves Green.  “Many of the dead are young eagles just leaving their nests and learning how to hunt. They wander out to hunt amongst the turbines and end up mutilated…With so many eagles being killed by turbines I do not understand how anyone could not mention this threat.”

Wiegand has also questioned Bittner’s conclusions regarding Tule Wind; he estimates perhaps as few as 10 Golden Eagle pairs may be left in San Diego County. A representative at Bittner’s Wildlife Research Institute has indicated that nests are not designated as empty unless they have been vacant for five years.

More wind projects are proposed for our region in historical eagle habitat including Jewel Valley, Shu’luuk Wind and possibly a project on the Manzanita reservation, in addition to Tule Wind and the existing Kumeyaay Wind facility.

“If these projects go forward and Jim Wiegand is right,” Roy Hales at San Diego Loves Green recently concluded, “San Diego’s Golden Eagle population may disappear.”

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at https://www.eastcountymedia.org/donate to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.


Eagle "Expert" pleads guilty

Way to Go FBI, its about time!  I'm greatfut for the work you do but you're not done yet!  Bitner gets fined 100,000$, but How much do you think SDG&E paid him to marginalize the data? 100k is pocket change. Why don't you go after the people that put him up to it.  After all what value would Dave Bitner have in NOT publishing work; that is the stuff from which grant money comes-of course if one is a poor scientist needing grant money. 

 Have you SEEN Bitner, do you really believe he was trapseing around the rocky cravases of our backcountry all by himself?   How many other environmental and archeological assessors do you think they paid off? Well, how many did they hire? -and keep around?  How many didn't they pay off?  What happened to assessors that didn't comply with the water-down rules. Do you believe that SDG&E saw eagles as the kingpin deal breaker?  They sure did put a lot of importance on Eagles didn't they? (Remember how "Deepthoat remarked, they really are not that smart" ) How come all of these assessors are so strickly bound to non disclosure agreements? After all this is public land, Its not like they are protecting proprietary information, this is general scientific information that should be available to the public since ultimately we pay for that info, -maybe not the exact location of arch sites and eagle nests but at least a general accounting of what is and what is not.  Why do you suppose Bitner would do this anyway?  Did anyone besides me notice an interesting change of attitude or personality , perhaps a bit of evasiveness , with some of these cats in the last few years, compared to the people we use to  put our faith and trust in?   Gee, some other issues for the energy projects like what has it done to the integrity of our community processes and solidarity.  Any value in creating controversy? If you are mad at someone is there someone that WANTS you to be? Consider the possibility.  (Yankee ,go home, or maybe Opec , go home) Jjust how much of this are we willing to put up with before Congress slaps some oversite into the situation? Its Earth Day what better day to Write your Congressperson and lay home the incredible link between the environment and upholding Democracy and our Constitution. Gee,even some common ground? Comeon Hunter, we know you're out there, this is right up your bag!

  We have 2.2 billion for a tranmission and 10 fold in proposed wind  that somehow never made "Clear enough for an informed decisions" as NEPA required into that 10,000 page Sunrise EIS.  Which by the way  was so broad there was only a page to cover 12 environmental cateories per 100 acres. Not so detailed after all. so with maybe 7 to 70 billion on the line (dollars that is-OUR dollars)  as it turns out what are the chances people are not getting either extorted or bribed without some serious oversight?   And one more very interesting coincidence.  Bitner quit filing reports in Oct of 2006.  Do you remember what else was going on about then?  Wasn't that almost exactly-about the time SDG&E was told to find alternatives to the desert route and the whole first open house thing was going on ?  This was the event that spawned the diversion of Sunrise from the desert to the south Route to right where it is in the Southern Cleveland Forest and, as it turns out , in McCaine Valley right where Tule is.  Can a nondisclosure agreement force workers to cover up fraud? Aren't they specifically supposed to disclose to everyone on a federal contract that they can't, something about Federal nonretaliation laws as I recall??  While we're cutting deals with Scientists why don't you cut  that one a deal to turn state's evidence on the rest of them? I 'm sure you already thought of that.  Just the thought of it ought to make a few of 'em squirm out of obscurity.

WRI could be of some help

The Wildlife Research Institute has a tremendous amount of information about the golden eagle in Southern CA.  This is species in great trouble due to high mortality from wind farms.  At the very least San Diego County needs a straight forward no nonsense population survey of the golden eagle.  Time is important and with  WRI information, a third party looking in could determine the status on this species and save valuable time.  

But none if this really matters because there is one great obstacle in all this.  Your government doesn't care. The wildlife agencies and major conservation groups have written off species like the golden eagle, the condor, and whooping cranes. They see these species as collateral damage in war against climate change, a war that will bring great extinctions to the world.  They have been told that this is a war that can be won with wind turbines and these agencies have been instructed to not get in the way of these turbines.  

But behind the war on Climate Change there is the real war, a war for profits.  Corporations and financial institutions are selling their weapons against climate change. They are pulling the stings of the government agencies and are donating to these wildlife organizations.  They have also lobbied for these conservation groups to receive mitigation money from wind farm developments. The logic behind all this being that these groups with money can do more good saving wildlife and developing habitats elsewhere. What good did any of this do for the condor?  Some of these groups have filed lawsuits but then again there are monetary settlements and the projects go forward.                                                                                    

I call it selling out because one project at a time because a extensive list of species is being annihilated by wind turbines. The belief that turbines are any kind of solution for wildlife is also very twisted because there is far more evidence available to assume that 25% of all bird species could become extinct by 2054 due to wind turbines than from climate change as claimed by wind energy supporters. After all, it is the wind industry that has created the world-wide bird genocide, the proof lies under their turbines.  

With "green" wind turbines we also have a very clear case with the public of the "Emperor's clothes".  The illusion of these turbines is not reality. These turbines are not saviors, turbines are a product. They can never change climate, they can never solve the world's energy problems, they can never capture carbon, and they can never produce oxygen.  

If people would open their eyes and minds, they would see these wind turbines for what they really are.  Turbines are a product creating great profits, a product creating great taxpayer debt, a product blighting massive landscapes across the world, and a product killing off rare species. But this product not solving any of the climate problems and they are certainty not helping eagles.

So keep in mind we are in an undeclared war for profits and wars have virtually no rules. The Courts and politicians will pose and posture but nothing is likely to happen because they believe they are fighting a climate change war. The problem is they are using a weapon chosen for them by an industry only looking for profits.

I do know that if there were no wars, a moratorium on every one of these wind projects would start tomorrow.

Unbelievable. And to think I

Unbelievable. And to think I actually gave that place money. What a sham! It looks like he's clearly not a champion of conservation!