Environmentalist: Delisting of bald eagles could be unlawful | SummitDaily.com

Environmentalist: Delisting of bald eagles could be unlawful

PHOENIX ” Environmentalists claim federal biologists were ordered to come up with information to support removing Arizona’s bald eagles from endangered status even though biological data failed to support the move.

Notes from U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists show they were told the outcome had been predetermined even though “field recommendations likely won’t match end result,” according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The environmental group opposed the inclusion of Arizona eagles in the nationwide delisting of the bald eagle, which is expected late next month.

Last August, federal wildlife officials denied special protection for Arizona’s eagles, two years after conservation groups filed a petition asking the agency to protect Southwestern desert nesting bald eagles as a “distinct population segment” under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists argue that Arizona eagles have developed distinct characteristics living in the harsh desert environment and require continued protection because of threats to their habitat.

The center sued in January to force the agency to reconsider. A decision is pending.

According to notes from a conference call in April 2006, Fish and Wildlife Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle opposed the distinct population segment and his assessment apparently was communicated to staff biologists while they were evaluating the conservation groups’ petition.

Notes from a July 18 agency conference call show that Chris Nolin, a Washington Fish and Wildlife administrator, said that the distinct population segment designation was “largely a policy call.”

The Center for Biological Diversity sent the documents to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix, which will forward them to an investigative agency to determine whether laws have been broken, said Ann Harwood, first assistant U.S. attorney for Arizona.

An estimated 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles exist in the contiguous 48 states, a dramatic increase from about 400 in the 1960s after they were nearly decimated by widespread use of pesticides.

Arizona bald eagles since then have rebounded from a handful to 43 breeding pairs with about 50 nests but remain a fragile population, according to experts.

To win the special protection requested by the Arizona conservationists, the eagles must be proved to be both biologically distinct from other eagles and a significant group within the national eagle population.

Fish and Wildlife’s decision on the designation concluded that the Arizona eagles are distinct but not significant.

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