Bald-eagle population in Arizona at new high

On September 28, 2010, in news, by admin

by Shaun McKinnon – Sept. 28, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Arizona’s bald eagles maintained recent population gains during the 2010 breeding season, but conservation groups say the birds’ success could falter if a judge strips them of their endangered-species status.

The number of breeding adult eagles grew to a record 104 this year, up from a previous high of 100, the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported Monday. Three new active breeding areas were found.

By the end of the breeding season, which typically starts in December and continues into mid-summer, 44 eaglets took their first flight from the nest, or fledged, a critical step toward their survival in the wild. That number is down slightly from 2009, but up significantly from 2000, when 23 birds fledged.

Biologists watch not only the number of birds that hatch and fledge, but also the number of locations where breeding pairs nest. The number of occupied breeding areas grew to 52 this year; there were 38 occupied areas in 2000.

“Identifying three new breeding areas in the state is a positive sign that our population of bald eagles continues to grow and do well,” said Kenneth Jacobson, the state wildlife agency’s bald-eagle-management coordinator.

Arizona’s desert-nesting bald eagles remained protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, even after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the eagle from the endangered list in 2007.

Conservation groups sued the government over its decision, arguing that the bald eagle, found almost exclusively in Arizona, was a distinct population segment that had not recovered to the same degree as eagles elsewhere in the United States.

A federal judge ordered the wildlife service to reconsider its findings, but the agency reaffirmed its decision earlier this year, concluding that the Arizona eagle is not important enough biologically to retain its protection.

The judge heard a final round of arguments on the case on Sept. 14 and could issue a final decision at any time.

If the judge dismisses the case and allows the delisting decision to stand, conservation groups say they will file a new lawsuit. Although other state and federal laws will protect the eagles, only the Endangered Species Act protects the birds’ nesting habitat.

“This is a population that’s been important, significant and critical to our wildlife enjoyment and our culture here,” said Robin Silver, who follows the issue for the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based advocacy group. “The new numbers don’t change the fact that this is a population that’s in trouble.”

Read more:


Media Advisory, September 10, 2010

Contact: Dr. Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275

PHOENIX, Ariz.— A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest unfounded attempt to remove Endangered Species Act protections from the desert nesting bald eagle.

For three decades, the Fish and Wildlife Service has officially recognized that the Southwest’s desert nesting bald eagle is isolated, unique and important. No other bald-eagle population survives in an environment so hot and dry. The population has been important enough to the Service that a special recovery team has been in place since 1978 and tens of millions of dollars have been spent on the population’s recovery.

The Bush administration in 2006 tried to reverse decades of science and policy by removing Endangered Species Act protection for the eagle. U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia rejected that attempt in 2008, calling it t “arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law.”

The judge said the Bush-era decision was based on agency officials being given “marching orders,” and officials who later acknowledged that “we’ve been given an answer now we need to find an analysis that works… Need to fit argument in as defensible a fashion as we can.”

The judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to reevaluate its decision while Endangered Species Act protection continued. But little has changed under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his Fish and Wildlife Service: On Feb. 25, 2010, the agency tried to repeat the Bush administration’s action, reiterating the false claim that desert nesting bald eagles are “not important to the species as a whole.”

Judge Murguia will take up the case brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society again Tuesday afternoon.

In 2010, there were only 48 active desert eagle breeding areas, 27 successful breeding attempts and 44 fledglings.

Habitat destruction and human harassment are the two greatest threats to the population. The Endangered Species Act mandates money and crucial mitigation measures to protect the eagle from further destruction of their river habitat, harassment by off-road vehicles and aircraft, and other threats

NestWatch guardians have rescued and returned to the wild nearly 10 percent of the population’s fledglings over the three decades.. But without Endangered Species Act protection funding, the NestWatch program will disappear.

“We can’t let Secretary Salazar simply toss out vital federal protections for this unique bird and put it on the road toward extinction. It wasn’t right when the Bush administration tried it and it isn’t right now,,” said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The hearing will be held Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 2:00 p.m. in Courtroom 505, 401 West Washington Street, Phoenix, Ariz., before Judge Mary H Murguia..