An official from the American Wind Energy Association, in defending his industry against claims that wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds—including eagles—each year, did his best to shift blame for eagle deaths onto the shoulders of hunters and shooters.
In other words, he threw the hunting and shooting community under the bus.
In a June 29 op-ed piece in the Montgomery Advertiser, John Anderson, director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, wrote, “The wind industry’s impacts on eagles are minor compared to other human-related causes of mortality. Based on publicly available data, modern wind energy facilities are responsible for less than 1 percent of human-related eagle fatalities, ranking well below lead poisoning (eagles eat prey that has been shot by hunters), poisoning in general, illegal shooting, collisions with power lines (specifically smaller distribution lines that serve fossil fuel production areas), collisions with vehicles, and even drownings in livestock watering tanks.” (Emphasis ours)
While wind energy’s role in eagle mortality will not be debated here (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates 440,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines), laying the blame at hunters’ feet is unfair, untrue and irresponsible.
There is simply no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having adverse, population-level impacts on eagles. The same can be said for illegal shooting.
While virtually tripping over himself to deflect culpability away from the wind industry, Anderson missed the most obvious point of all: bald eagle populations are literally soaring. According to the USFWS, breeding pairs of bald eagles in the United States increased by more than 700 percent from 1981-2006.
Furthermore, bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species List in August 2007 and today are listed as a species of “least concern.”
Whatever the reasons are for the mortality of individual eagles, eagle populations as a whole are thriving. Ironically, excise taxes paid by hunters and shooters on the very ammunition environmentalists want to ban have played an important role in eagle recovery. Those excise taxes, collected since 1937 under the Pittman-Robertson Act, have generated $6 billion for wildlife conservation. That money helps eagles the same as it does deer, turkeys, grizzly bears, sandhill cranes and any other wildlife species that has rebounded over the last 75 years.
Of course, it’s difficult for environmental groups to raise money off of these iconic birds if they mention the fact that eagle numbers are increasing.
There is no doubt that these groups use both windmills and lead ammunition as scapegoats in their emotionally-driven lawsuits and campaigns to “protect” eagles and other birds of prey. The unfortunate part is that Anderson’s attempt to pass the buck does nothing to strengthen his industry’s defense, won’t end calls to halt wind projects, and only gives environmentalists more misinformation to exploit at the expense of hunters and shooters.
Given the slings and arrows that the energy industry endures from environmental groups almost daily, it should understand better than most how dangerous that can be.