Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bald Eagle Is Un-Endangered; But, Controversy Persists

Jun 28: Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI) Dirk Kempthorne announced the removal of the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species at a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. After nearly disappearing from most of the United States decades ago, the bald eagle is now flourishing across the nation and no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act. The eagle population fell into steep decline, due primarily to widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. DDT accumulated in eagles and caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells, decimating the eagle population across the nation.

Secretary Kempthorne said, “Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned. In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior’s decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List.” Kempthorne emphasized the ongoing commitment of the Interior Department and the entire federal government to the eagle’s continued success, noting that bald eagles will continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Both Federal laws prohibit “taking” -- killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clarified its regulations implementing the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and published a set of National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines [72 FR 31131-31140, 6/5/07] . These measures are designed to give landowners and others clear guidance on how to ensure that actions they take on their property are consistent with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition, the Service is accepting public comments on a proposal to establish a permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that would allow a limited take of bald and golden eagles. Any take authorized would be consistent with the purpose and goal of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, ensuring eagle populations remain healthy and sustainable.

Those new guidelines are not without controversy. On June 4, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) said the new bald eagle regulations effectively extend the "delisting" under the Endangered Species Act and create "harsh land use controls." [See WIMS 6/6/07] PLF said, "After dragging its feet for nearly eight years since President Clinton declared the bald eagle recovered... to remove the bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act list... a new federal rule on land use in the vicinity of bald eagles is too harsh and will burden small property owners and businesses without justification..." PLF said "the rule is so restrictive that it would effectively negate the removal of the bald eagle from the federal Endangered Species Act list." For this reason PLF attorneys and their client are considering a legal challenge because the restriction may mean that their client's long wait to be able to build small lakeside cabins on his land could go on, because there are eagle nests in the area.

The official removal of the bald eagle from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Upon delisting, the Service will continue to work with state wildlife agencies to monitor eagles for at least five years, as required by the Endangered Species Act. If at any time it appears that the bald eagle again needs the Act’s protection, the Service can propose to relist the species. The Service has developed a draft monitoring plan that is available for public review and comment.

Susan Holmes, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice issued a statement saying, "We can all be proud that together, we have brought bald eagle populations back from the brink... As we applaud this national success, it is troubling to note that the Bush administration has recently been working behind closed doors to undermine the Endangered Species Act's ability to recovery other species at risk of extinction. Even as they celebrate the eagle's comeback, the administration is drafting new regulations that could severely weaken the law which has so effectively kept our nation's symbol with us..."

John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society said, "The rescue of the bald eagle from the brink of extinction ranks among the greatest victories of American conservation. Like no other species, the bald eagle showed us all that environmental stewardship has priceless rewards. In every state, parents and grandparents can still point to the sky and share a moment of wonder as a bald eagle soars overhead. The success is evident in the Audubon counts. Over a 40-year period from 1967 to 2006, bald eagle sightings have gone up nine-fold and increased an average of six percent per year every year. The top five states with the most dramatic increases were Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Vermont and Michigan, which all had at least a 13-fold increase over 40 years."

Access a release and links to related information including the Bald Eagle website from the DOI (
click here). Access a release from PLF (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access a release from the Audubon Society and link to additional information (click here). [*Wildlife]