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FEDERAL LAW PROTECTION ENSURED FOR BALD EAGLES

Fish and Wildlife Service to protect eagles upon delisting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced that the bald eagle will continue to be strongly protected by federal law under a series of actions designed to govern management of eagles should they be removed from Endangered Species Act protection.

The Service finalized modifications to a regulatory definition under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the primary federal law that will be used to manage eagles if they are removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Also announced are a set of National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines giving landowners and others guidance on how to ensure that actions they take on their property are consistent with the Eagle Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, both of which protect bald eagles by prohibiting killing, selling, or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs.

In addition, the USFWS opened a public comment period on a proposal to establish a permit program under the Eagle Act that would allow a limited take of bald and golden eagles while ensuring that populations are not significantly affected.

"This is a major milestone in the recovery of endangered species," says Ken Brunson, wildlife diversity coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "For many people, seeing their first bald eagle in the wild is a very exciting moment. This is becoming more common in Kansas as our national symbol has rebounded from the devastating effects of DDT in the middle part of the last century.

"Kansans enjoy several hundred bald eagles that overwinter in the state, and about two dozen pairs nest each spring," Brunson continues. "For the past 17 years, since the first nest at Clinton Reservoir in 1989, Kansas has seen the successful fledging of 281 eaglets from the wild. Final tallies are not in yet for this year's production, but it is expected to continue the upward trend. The Wildlife and Parks will be paying close attention to the new regulations and support the continued use of logical approaches towards protecting eagle nests."

"The bald eagle has rebounded from the brink of extinction to reach population levels that have not been seen since World War II," said USFWS Director H. Dale Hall. "And we want to ensure that bald eagles continue to thrive once they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act."

The modifications to implementing regulations for the Eagle Act establish a regulatory definition of "disturb," a term currently defined as "take" by the Eagle Act. The final definition defines "disturb" as "to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle; 2) a decrease in productivity by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior; or 3) nest abandonment caused by interference with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior." This definition will provide clarity to the public while continuing protection for bald eagles.

The guidelines are intended to help landowners and others avoid violating the Eagle Act by disturbing bald eagles. For example, the guidelines recommend buffers around nests to screen nesting eagles from noise and visual distractions caused by human activities.
The USFWS also opened a 90-day public comment period on its proposal to create a permit that would authorize a limited "take" of bald and golden eagles. This proposed permit is intended to be similar to an "incidental take permit" issued under the Endangered Species Act. It allows permit holders agreeing to specific conservation measures to avoid liability if an eagle is unintentionally harmed in the course of an otherwise lawful activity. In addition, the proposed permit would establish provisions to remove eagle nests in rare cases where their location poses a risk to human safety or to the eagles themselves, such as close proximity to an airport runway. Such a permit program would be designed to ensure that any take occurs within limits that would not harm population levels.

The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state except Hawaii. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 states. Since the delisting proposal in 1999, recovery of the bald eagle has continued to progress at an impressive rate. In 2000, a national bald eagle census estimated 6,471 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, this number has risen to 9,789 nesting pairs.

The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act. It was later amended to include golden eagles and renamed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The eagle was one of the original species protected by the Endangered Species Act when it was enacted in 1973. Captive breeding programs, reintroductions, law enforcement efforts, protection of habitat around nest sites, and land purchase and preservation activities are factors leading to the robust population levels seen today.

The USFWS will make a final decision on its delisting proposal by June 29, 2007. Comments on the proposed "managed take" permit must be received by Sept. 4. Comments may be sent by mail to the Division of Migratory Bird Management, Attn: RIN 1018-AV11, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MBSP-4107, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments may also be emailed to mailto:EaglePermitRegulation@fws.gov or made online. All comments should refer to RIN 1018-AV11.

More information about the bald eagle and the current proposal are available here.

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