The U.S. is easing restrictions on wind farms designed to limit the accidental deaths of birds after the populations of bald and golden eagles stabilized.
Wind-farm operators can now get permits to cover unintended deaths that run for as long as 30 years, according to a final rule announced Wednesday by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
That’s up from a 2009 ruling that required wind-farm owners to renew ‘‘taking’’ permits for federally protected bald and golden eagles every five years. The Obama administration sought to ease the rules in 2013 after the number of bald eagles soared to the highest in 50 years and the golden eagle population stabilized.
Wind developers must take measures to protect birds before they will be granted a permit. The maximum allowed for all unintentional takings nationwide was raised to 4,200 bald eagles, which now number about 143,000. There are about 40,000 of the rarer golden eagle, and any killing must be offset by measures that ensure no net loss.
“Incidental loss of eagles is not new, and whether or not we issue permits, it will continue to occur,” Dan Ashe, director of the service, said in a blog post. “We can now reduce threats and mitigate those risks for more effectively, sustaining bald and golden eagle populations for the foreseeable future.”
The longer-term permits will be subject to review every five years, and under the new rules the owner must hire independent monitors and make the data available to the public.
While wind turbines are known to kill birds and bats, the numbers are far smaller than deaths due to cats, cars, mobile-phone towers or flying into buildings.