Bald, Golden Eagle Protection and Permitting
The Bald Eagle is an Endangered Species Act success story. Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population.
Bald eagle. (USFWS)
Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government's banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery. So while bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently, both bald and golden eagles remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act (Eagle Act).
As authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to qualified applicants for the following types of activities: falconry, raptor propagation, scientific collecting, special purposes (rehabilitation, educational, migratory game bird propagation, and salvage), take of depredating birds, taxidermy, and waterfowl sale and disposal. Migratory bird permit policy is developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the permits themselves are issued by regional bird permit offices. The regulations governing migratory bird permits can be found in 50 CFR part 13 (General Permit Procedures) and 50 CFR part 21 (Migratory Bird Permits).
Eagles and Renewable Energy
In 1962, Congress amended the Eagle Act to cover golden eagles, recognizing that the population of the golden eagle had declined at such an alarming rate that it was threatened with extinction.
This law provides specific protection for bald and golden eagles by prohibiting the "take" of any eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit (16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22).
The term "take" is used to describe all covered acitivities in relationship to animal and their associated habitat, and includes all actions to "pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb." The 1972 amendments increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the Act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment.
As advances in wind energy technologies and increased interest in renewable energy sources have resulted in rapid expansion of the wind energy industry in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed Voluntary Land - Based Wind Energy Guidelines in 2012 that will help shape the smart- siting, design and operation of the nation's rapidly expanding wind energy operations and provide a structured, scientific process for addressing wildlife conservation concerns at all stages of land-based wind energy development. They also promote effective communication among wind energy developers and federal, state, tribal, and local conservation agencies. In addition, the guidelines provide Best Management Practices for site development, construction, retrofitting, repowering, and decommissioning.
Permits: Authorized and Non-purposeful 'take'
The Service recognizes that wind energy facilities, even those developed and operated with the utmost effort to conserve wildlife, may under some circumstances result in the "take" of eagles. However, in 2009, the Service promulgated new permit rules for eagles that address this issue (50 CFR 22.26 and 22.27).
Under these new rules the Service can issue permits that authorize individual instances of take of bald and golden eagles when the take is associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity, and cannot practicably be avoided. The regulations also authorize permits for "programmatic" take, which means that instances of "take" may not be isolated, but may recur. The programmatic take permits are the most germane permits for wind energy facilities. However, under these regulations, any ongoing or programmatic take must be unavoidable even after the implementation of advanced conservation practices (ACPs).
Eagle Act take permits may authorize limited, non-purposeful take of bald eagles and golden eagles, authorizing individuals, companies, government agencies (including tribal governments), and other organizations to disturb or otherwise take eagles in the course of conducting otherwise lawful activities, such as operating utilities and airports.
The Service cannot issue a programmatic eagle permit for eagles if doing so would decrease the overall number of eagles in the regional eagle population. However, the Service takes into consideration any proposed compensatory mitigation actions that offset fatalities by reducing another potential eagle fatality in the region when issuing a permit.
The Service developed the Eagle Conservation Planning Guidance to provide recommendations to wind industry. Eagle Conservation Plans may serve as the foundation for eagle programmatic take permits applications.
Eagle Conservation Plans
Eaqle Conservation Planning Guidance
As the nation seeks to increase its production of domestic energy, wind energy developers and wildlife agencies have recognized a need for specific guidance to help make wind energy facilities compatible with eagle conservation and the laws and regulations that protect eagles. To meet this need, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has developed the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance (ECPG).
This document provides specific, in‐depth guidance for conserving bald and golden eagles in the course of siting, constructing, and operating wind energy facilities. The ECPG guidance supplements the Service's Land‐Based Wind Energy Guidelines (WEG). WEG provides a broad overview of wildlife considerations for siting and operating wind energy facilities, but does not address the in‐depth guidance needed for the specific legal protections afforded to bald and golden eagles. The ECPG fills this gap.
Like the Wind Energy Guidance, the ECPG calls for wind project developers to take a staged approach to siting new projects. Both call for preliminary landscape‐level assessments to assess potential wildlife interactions and proceed to site‐specific surveys and risk assessments prior to construction.
They also call for monitoring project operations and reporting eagle fatalities to the Service and state and tribal wildlife agencies.
While compliance with the ECPG is voluntary, the Service believes that following the guidance will help project operators comply with regulatory requirements and avoid the unintentional "take" of eagles at wind energy facilities, and will also assist the wind energy industry in providing the biological data needed to support permit applications for facilities that may pose a risk to eagles.
The Eagle Conservation Planning Guidance and other helpful documents are downloadable in the "Resources and Links" box elsewhere on this page.
Frequently asked questions
What is a programmatic "take"permit and when is it required?
Programmatic take is generally defined as take that is recurring and not in a specific, identifiable time frame and/or location. The specific regulatory definition is "take that (1) is recurring, but not caused solely by indirect effects, and (2) occurs over the long-term or in a location or locations that cannot be specifically identified." Programmatic take permits may be issued to entities, such as electric utilities or transportation providers, that may currently take eagles in the course of otherwise lawful activities but who can work with the Service to develop and implement additional, exceptionally comprehensive measures ("advanced conservation practices" or "ACPs") to reduce take to the level where any remaining take is essentially unavoidable.
What form do I use to apply for a programmatic permit?
Prospective permittees apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office using an application form specifically tailored to their proposed activity. The information collected through permit applications is used to determine whether or not the individual qualifies for the type of migratory bird-related permit for which you have applied. You may obtain an application online, or by contacting a Regional Bird Permit Office near you. The form used for programmatic permits is the "Eagle Non-Purposeful Take" form found here.
A programmatic take permit may also be issued to State and Federal agencies that take eagles in the course of their routine operations if they adopt such advanced conservation measures. There is no requirement that a permit be programmatic; it is an option that is available in some circumstances. A programmatic permit can, and often will, cover other take in addition to programmatic take.
Where do I mail my application?
Permit applications must be mailed to the Regional FWS Permit Office in the region where you are located. Find the address on our list of Regional Migratory Bird Permit Offices.
See a full list of frequently asked questions here.
Who to contact
Who should I contact with questions about migratory bird permits?
Contact our Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office.
REGION 8, Pacific Southwest Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Permit Office
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825
Tel. (916) 414-6464
Fax (916) 414-6486
(Please include your telephone number in the text of your message so we may better serve you).