By Jim Wiegand
January 18, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) --The golden eagle is a species in rapid decline and most of this demise has been a relatively recent event. The primary reason for their population crash has been the development of wind energy in the habitat of this species. None of this has been publicly acknowledged.
Ironically during this same period for the golden eagle, the population of the bald eagle has increased dramatically. Fortunately bald eagles’ habitat has been spared the ravages of wind development. But this too will soon change as new wind energy developments are built into their wetland habitats across America.
It would be easy to document the decline of the golden eagle with proper studies, but this is not being done and this is deliberate. Near wind projects there is a history of eagle nesting failures and a clear history of habitat abandonment. A pattern that has been hidden from the public as wind projects have expanded across California and the west.
These undisclosed impacts occur when adult eagles are killed by a turbine during the egg and downy stages of a nesting cycle. During this critical 8-9 week period there is a 100 percent probability of a complete nest failure if one adult eagle is lost. It simply is not possible for a single parent to hunt, incubate or protect their young from the elements.
This history of golden eagle nesting failures located near wind turbines in CA is never clearly stated, but the evidence is there for anyone that wishes to read about it. Some of this impact is revealed in the last Environmental Impact documents submitted for the expansion of the Shiloh wind turbines project in California's Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area.
There is even the mention of a possible bald eagle nest near these turbines that may have suffered the same fate as the golden eagles but industry documents do their best to omit, hide or to not document these kinds of facts. But bald eagles are scavengers and once they discover that the carcasses of other birds are falling to the ground around these turbines, they will be attracted by these carcasses and will also be killed. This very well could have happened to a pair of bald eagles that set up a home on Grizzly Island near the Shiloh wind turbines in 2011.
As I read through the official public statements made regarding golden eagles and their demise, it is very disturbing that the truth is being hidden. Dead eagles are important and they have to mean something. Yet nothing is being said about their dwindling population by any government agency entrusted to protect this species, nor is it discussed in any wind industry documents. Instead I see statements golden eagles that are completely false and there are crystal clear omissions of important information in every official statement being released to the public. The untold truth is that this species is being slaughtered off by wind turbines.
For some time now I have been stating that the FWS and the Wind industry would have a very hard time proving that even 100 occupied and productive (successful) golden eagle nests that still remain in California. This estimate is based upon from my knowledge of this species, my intimate knowledge of the land, and the fact that over the years the wind industry in CA has been killing thousands of these magnificent birds.
I also pay attention keeping a close lookout for eagles and other raptors anytime I travel or head out into the field. I have been doing this for over 45 years. I do not see golden eagles nearly as often as I used to in CA. In the 1980's and 1990's on frequent trips through the bay area foothills on down to Salinas, it was the normal for me to see 6 -10 golden eagles. I have made this trip hundreds of times and now I rarely see one.
Near my home and I have not seen a golden eagle in skies for several years. I used to see them migrating through in the spring and fall every year. The last one I saw was an adult hunting a brushy ridge line about 1000 feet above Shasta Lake.
Recently a new survey has come to my attention that adds credibility to my estimate for the current population of the golden eagle in California.
In 2012 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in California contracted BioResource Consultants, Inc. (BRC) to collect new field data and report on the current breeding status of Golden Eagles in a significant portion of California.
The purpose of this 2012 survey was to contribute to a wider North American effort that is underway to document Golden Eagle habitat use and population demographics. The primary study areas were the BLM’s California Desert District and California's Northern district.
The study did not disclose it but these two BLM districts cover approximately 2/3 of the entire state of California. The study also did not share other facts pertaining to the golden eagle in California. The Northern BLM district because the heavy forests of the mountains and coastline region has never supported many golden eagles. In addition many historical eagle nesting sites no longer exist and many others in the past were just alternative nest sites for an established eagle territory.
From a database of approximately 522 historical Golden Eagle nesting locations known within the Desert and Northern CA districts, 424 Golden Eagle nesting sites were surveyed in 2012. In an area that covers two thirds of the state of California, there were 71 golden eagle nest sites claimed be active. But most importantly only 45 of these occupied nest sites were successful in raising their young. This is the single most important number for this declining population.
In sharp contrast the public hears comments like those put out by a biologist that was hired to do studies related to wind project developments. This biologist gave out a completely estimate in 2012 for the golden eagle population in San Diego County.
"Historical and current data from the core study area indicate a 55% decline from 104 breeding pairs in 1895."
The core study area was San Diego County and 55% of 104 breeding pairs is an estimate of 57 breeding pairs. San Diego county has some excellent golden eagle habitat but I do not believe that anyone could prove that there are even 10 breeding pairs of golden eagles left in San Diego County. The BLM study conducted in 2012 also did not find all 45 occupied and successful golden eagle nests in just the San Diego area.
A recent FWS estimates is that the CA wind industry's turbines are killing about 100 golden eagles each year from the BLM's Central California district. In this region there are the four wind resource areas, Altamont Pass, Montezuma hills, Tehachapi and Pacheco Pass. About 53 of the golden eagles in this estimate are being killed outside Altamont Pass.
I believe the FWS estimate is far too low because the industry has always been reluctant to disclose the truth or to conduct honest studies. When studies are conducted search areas are greatly restricted and search intervals have allowed mortally wounded eagles up to 90 days wander off, be picked by lease holders, picked up by wind personnel, or carted off by scavengers. They never come close to counting them all and the industry is pulling every possible trick to make this to appear differently. The Altamont Pass mortality studies that have been overhauled so estimates now appear lower are included in this figure.
I also know by the location that the Pacheco Pass wind turbines are killing more than 2 golden eagles a year. This is a wind project that deserves a lot more attention because these turbines are not the stated installed capacity and they are sitting right in the heart of the golden eagle population that still exists within California.
I believe that wind industry is actually killing over 200 eagles a year in California and many of those being killed many are the fledged offspring from the remaining nest sites and others from migratory populations fro the north the Great Basin states. In this estimate I am also not including all the eagles killed because of turbine related nest failures or the eagles killed further south at othe California wind projects located in eagle habitat.
The FWS currently estimates that the golden eagle population in California is about 2000. Yet the active/successful nest site data from the BLM surveys indicates that there are now fewer than 500 golden eagles in California. A reasonable explanation for this inflated number is that the FWS population estimate just happens to fit in rather nicely t with the Eagle Conservation plan, allowing 5% of the eagle population to be killed each year by wind turbines.
Getting Accountability from the Interior Department
The reality is that there are not even close to a population of 2000 golden eagles in California, the wind industry is killing far more than 100 eagles a year in California and the Eagle Conservation Plan is a giant charade being put on for the public. So how does this problem get fixed?
It may never get fixed because the Interior Department and our Politicians answer to corporations and all government employees have to sell whatever rolls down the pipeline.
It may appear that the job of the FWS is to protect eagles but the truth is that this is secondary. I happen to know that the primary responsibility of any government employee is to not rock the boat and to roll over when asked. This is the way it is and the higher the rank, the bigger the whore. People that play the game the best are the ones being promoted.
I have had first hand experience about this very same problem in 1990 with a Federal employee who was the Regional Supervisor for the Forest service. He told me if I ever told anybody what he had revealed to me, his life would be ruined and he would deny ever talking to me. It is also one of the reasons I never wanted to work for the California CADFG or the USFWS.
I could never in my mind justify the slaughter of eagles as collateral damage from an industry avoiding bird safe turbines and falsifying their studies so they could peddle more of these deadly turbines.
Jim Wiegand is the Vice President USA, Save the Eagles International. For more information visit http://www.savetheeaglesinternational.org. The views in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration contact firstname.lastname@example.org.