On September 30, 2022 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) published notice in the Federal Register of a proposed rule amending its regulations authorizing permits for eagle incidental take and eagle nest take. Although the proposed rule includes other proposed revisions, the most notable change is the Service’s proposal to create general permits for certain projects and activities. Under these general permits, applicants would register with the Service, pay the required fees, and certify compliance with general permit conditions. By making general permits available to certain activities and projects, the Service aims to remove administrative barriers, reduce costs, and make the process less confusing for applicants. For projects or activities that do not qualify for a general permit, individual or specific permits will remain available.
In the proposed rule, the Service proposes general permits for four types of qualifying projects or activities: wind energy generation projects, power line infrastructure, disturbance of breeding bald eagles, and bald eagle nest take. We discuss each proposed general permit in turn below.
Eagle Incidental Take Permit for Qualifying Wind Energy Projects. To encourage broader participation in the eagle permitting program by wind energy developers and operators, the Service is proposing a five-year general permit for certain qualifying wind energy projects. Eligibility is determined based on the relative eagle abundance in the project area. To be eligible, all turbines associated with the project must be located in an area with seasonal relative eagle abundance (based on eBird data) below the threshold amounts across five eagle “seasons.” The project must also be greater than 660 feet from a bald eagle nest and two miles from a golden nest to qualify under the general permit.
For existing wind energy projects, the proposed rules would allow project operators to request coverage under the wind energy general permit even when a portion of the project is within an area that does not fall below the applicable relative abundance thresholds. The Service anticipates “issuing a letter of authorization for most existing projects where only a small percentage of existing turbines do not qualify under the relative abundance thresholds or when an existing project has conducted and provides monitoring data demonstrating fatality rates consistent with those expected for general turbines.”
The proposed wind energy general permit requires permittees to monitor eagle take but allows project proponents to use onsite employees rather than relying on third-party monitors. If a project is covered by a general permit and has four eagle fatalities during the permit term, the project will be required to implement adaptive management measures and seek an individual permit at the expiration of the general permit.
The proposed application fee for the wind energy general permit is $500, and the proposed administrative fee is $525 per turbine per year or $2,625 per turbine for a five-year permit. Under the current proposal, wind energy general permits would be valid for five years.
Eagle Incidental Take Permit for Power Lines. The Service is also proposing a general permit option for power line infrastructure. To qualify for coverage under the power line general permit, the applicant must, in addition to meeting other general requirements: (1) ensure that new construction is electrocution-safe for bald and golden eagles; (2) implement a reactive retrofit strategy following all eagle electrocutions; (3) implement a proactive retrofit strategy to retrofit a portion of existing infrastructure during each general permit term; (4) implement an eagle collision response strategy; (5) incorporate information on eagles into project siting and design; and (6) implement an eagle shooting response strategy (aimed at addressing illegal shooting of eagles on power lines). The proposed application fee for the power line general permit is $500 and the proposed administration fee is $5,000 for each state for which the power-line entity is seeking authorization. Like the wind energy general permits, under the current proposal, power line general permits would be valid for five years.
Continue Reading U.S. Fish and Wildlife Proposes Revisions to Eagle Permit Rules, Including General Permits for Qualifying Wind Energy Projects, Power Lines, and Disturbance and Nest Take