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We Must Protect Eagles and Expand Wind Power at the Same Time

01/10/2014 10:16 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2014

Striking a balance between wildlife conservation and wind energy development starts with understanding threats to eagle populations.

Right before the New Year, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon watching a bald eagle soar across the sky above Long Lake in the Adirondacks. After being nearly eradicated from the lower 48 states by the 1960s, bald eagles were re-introduced to the Adirondacks in the 1980s, and I'm proud to report the view from my home indicates they are flourishing in upstate New York.

But this resurgence didn't happen by chance. It's thanks to a series of federal policies that spurred decades of work to bring this iconic species back from the brink. The most important policy of which is the Endangered Species Act. And we actually have the bald eagle to thank for its passage.

During the first half of last century, bald eagle numbers plummeted due to excessive hunting, habitat loss and the introduction of pesticides like DDT. It was public outcry over the impending loss of our national symbol that in part compelled Congress to pass a series of wildlife protection measures, eventually leading to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973.

The ESA has gone on to save hundreds of species from extinction, including the grizzly bear and gray wolf. In fact, 98 percent of the species protected by the law have survived. And one of the first ones, the bald eagle, made a remarkable recovery across its range reaching estimates of almost 10,000 breeding pairs in the contiguous United States in 2006, up from just under 500 breeding pairs in the 1960's. Bald eagles recovered to such an extent that they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007.

Still, new risks are emerging for eagles across the country, bald eagles among them. And some decades-old risks still abound, such as habitat loss caused by development, lead poisoning, and electrocution by power lines. Protecting eagles from the threat of extinction is a conservation success story that we must prudently safeguard for future generations to come.

Just recently, though, the Fish and Wildlife Service chose to ignore eagle conservation concerns and science when it granted wind farms permission to harm eagles for a period of up to 30 years. And they did so without any clue as to the impact that spinning wind turbine blades might have on eagle populations.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Striking a balance between wildlife conservation and wind energy development starts with understanding threats to eagle populations, and how our actions, including operating wind farms, are affecting them. This is the better path -- a science-based, conservationist approach to moving forward with wind energy and protecting eagles at the same time.

A vast majority of Americans agree that we need to move as quickly as possible to the clean energy future, and scaling up wind power is an important part of our 100 percent renewable energy goal. Wind and other clean, renewable energy will help end our reliance on fossil fuels and combat the severe threat that climate change poses to humans and wildlife alike. This does not mean, though, that we can gloss over the potential problems if we aren't smart about how we develop renewables. Rather, we should address them head on and find solutions.

Hopefully, the agency will reconsider its rule so we can move forward to scale up environmentally responsible wind development and protect our iconic eagle populations.

As we celebrate the bald eagle on National Eagle Day, we should remember the conversation efforts that revived their populations. And we should apply those lessons learned to the new challenges they face today so that they'll be plenty of room for clean energy and eagles to soar into the future.

For more information, please visit the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post for Save the Eagles Day, which occurs on Jan. 10 each year to raise awareness and support efforts to protect the once-endangered American bald eagle. To see all the posts in the series, click here.