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Legal Deal to Kill Golden Eagle

The federal government may grant a permit to kill protected golden eagles to an Oregon wind farm, and conservationists are applauding the move.

The federal government may grant a permit to kill protected golden eagles to an Oregon wind farm, and conservationists applaud the move.

Wind turbine blades regularly strike and kill birds in flight. But West Butte Wind Power LLC's 52 turbine wind power plant will be the first to official receive a legal permit to kill as many as three protected golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) over five years. The catch is that the company must contribute to eagle breeding programs for every bird killed, according to the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service's draft environmental assessment.

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"Our goal is to maintain stable or increasing populations of eagles protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act," said Chris McKay, assistant regional director for Migratory Birds and State Programs in the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region in a press release from the Governors' Wind Energy Coalition.

Since wind farms are killing birds anyway, conservationists are cautiously optimistic the permit may be a way for energy companies to take responsibility for their impact on the environment. Especially since "take" permits, which give the right to kill, harass or disturb a protected species, are not mandatory.

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"This is an extremely important permit. ... It's precedent-setting," Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy, in the press release.

"This is a type of project where it's appropriate for them to issue this kind of permit," said Liz Nysson, energy policy coordinator with the Oregon Natural Desert Association in an MSNBC article.

"I say ‘cautious optimism' because we fear that the agency is going to go forward and start issuing these permits ... for a multitude of golden eagles every year, and that would be a bad use of the policy," Nysson said.

The golden eagle is not an endangered species, or even threatened, but it is protected under the the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. A provision put in place in 2009 allows take permits to be issued.

As top predators, golden eagles are essential for ecosystem health, because they keep prey species in check.

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The golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, belongs to the family Accipitridae. (Richard Bartz, Wikimedia Commons)