The bald eagle's recovery from near extinction in the lower 48 states is one of the great achievements of the Endangered Species Act, made possible by decades of hard work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our state colleagues, and partners across the nation. Sustaining and building on that success is not only our duty as public servants, and our abiding passion as conservationists.
Since its 2009 delisting, the nation's bald eagle population has steadily increased, and now numbers more than 143,000 individuals. At the same time, data suggest golden eagle populations are stable but may gradually decline, heightening the importance of managing that species more protectively.
Contrary to published reports, proposed changes to our Eagle Conservation and Management Program do not give wind energy companies -- or any other industry, organization or individual -- license to kill thousands of eagles each year without consequence. The notion that we intend to permit the killing of more than 4,000 bald eagles is wrong. Period. That number appears in our proposal only as a scientific reference point that signals the "tipping point" at which our biologists tell us overall eagle populations would be at risk.
In reality, our conservation proposal will reduce harm to bald and golden eagles at a national and local scale. We've set very conservative limits on eagle mortality (from all sources, not just wind) to ensure healthy, sustainable populations. We require mitigation for any golden eagle deaths that exceed those levels -- in addition to the conservation measures we impose in exchange for permits.
The truth is, thousands of eagles die every year for a variety of reasons -- most from natural causes. The vast majority of human-caused deaths result from intentional poisoning and shooting -- federal crimes that we aggressively investigate and prosecute. Most other eagle deaths are caused by collisions - with cars, buildings, power lines and other structures. Wind energy facilities represent a fraction of these deaths, and the media's singular focus on wind turbines is a gross distortion of the truth.
Nearly all of these eagle deaths are not permitted, and many are unreported. That's the real problem for our biologists.
We can't manage eagle populations sustainably and effectively without better data on eagle mortality. And we can't intercede to help developers of all stripes minimize and avoid those deaths unless we understand how and why they're occurring. A rational, efficient permitting framework will help provide this understanding.
We certainly recognize that our nation and the world need renewable energy development to reduce the severity of climate change impacts on eagles and hundreds of other native species. But the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act applies equally to the electric power industry, the oil and gas industry, the construction and aviation industries, and every other activity that may harm or kill eagles.
As we have for decades, we will continue to work with developers from every industry to review proposed projects. Before we grant any permit, we require them to develop an Eagle Conservation Plan outlining required measures to reduce and avoid harming or killing eagles. Only after we approve this plan do we issue a permit.
When bald eagles were protected under the Endangered Species Act, we permitted more incidental take of eagles than we're proposing now. Yet the population steadily expanded! What we're proposing is nothing new, and it builds on years of proven success.
I want to stress that this is a proposal. We've opened a 60-day public comment period, and welcome information and feedback from the public, the scientific community and stakeholders. We will review the information we receive and incorporate it, as appropriate, into our proposals before finalizing them.
Under no circumstances will we jeopardize the success of bald eagle recovery or create impediments to healthy, thriving golden eagle populations. That's our commitment to you, and our obligation under the law.