FWS denies listing for desert population of bald eagles
Written byAPRIL REESE, Greenwire
The Sonoran Desert population of bald eagles doesn't merit listing under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.
Environmental groups had petitioned the agency in 2010 to extend ESA protections to the population, which inhabits parts of Arizona, the Copper Basin breeding area in California near the Colorado River and an area of Sonora, Mexico. The group had argued that the population is distinct from other bald eagle populations (Land Letter, Oct. 14, 2010).
But FWS decided in February 2010 that the population did not meet listing requirements, and last November, a federal judge ordered the agency to reassess the decision.
In that lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court in Phoenix in October 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society argued that habitat destruction and human harassment represent significant threats to the eagle, whose population was estimated at about 50 breeding pairs.
But in its new decision, FWS reiterated its earlier conclusions, saying the Sonoran Desert population doesn't qualify as a "distinct population segment" because it is not different enough from other bald eagle populations.
To determine if such a designation is appropriate, the agency takes three things into consideration. First, it determines whether the population is discrete and, if so, whether it is significant. Then, if the population is determined to be both discrete and significant, FWS look at whether the species would meet the requirements for endangered or threatened under the ESA.
In this case, FWS found that the Sonoran Desert population does qualify as a discrete, separate population, but it does not meet the significance requirement.
After reviewing the available information on the population, "the Service found no direct or indirect evidence that would indicate persistence in the Sonoran Desert area is biologically or ecologically important to the taxon as a whole," according to the agency's April 20 release announcing the decision.
Specifically, FWS found that the population's genetic makeup does not differ much from other bald eagle populations and the loss of the population would not result in a significant gap in the bird's range.
The population is still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.
But without ESA protection, grazing and off-highway vehicle use will continue to degrade eagle habitat, and the mandatory requirement for agency funding of the NestWatch program, which provides on-site protection for the most threatened nests, will end, wildlife advocates say.
The new decision amounts to an attempt by FWS to "flush the desert nesting bald eagle down the toilet again," said Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity.