For Immediate Release, August 28, 2008
Contact: Dr. Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275
Motion Filed to Extend Review of Endangered Desert Nesting Bald Eagle
PHOENIX— Conservationists and American Indians filed a court request Wednesday requesting an extension of a deadline for protecting Arizona’s desert nesting bald eagle to allow Arizona’s Indian nations, communities, and tribes time to demonstrate that there were many more eagles present in Arizona historically than acknowledged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Service’s removal of the eagle’s Endangered Species Act protections was reversed in March by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Murguia. The judge ordered the Service to immediately reinstate protections and provide a new evaluation and decision by December 5th. Wednesday’s motion, which seeks to extend the decision to October 12th, 2009, enjoys support from Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, and is unopposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The desert nesting bald eagle population is highly threatened and entirely distinct from other bald eagle populations. No recognized bald eagle expert disagrees,” said Dr. Robin Silver, co-founder and board member of the Center for Biological Diversity and vice president of Maricopa Audubon. “Today’s request affords Indian people time to establish the population’s significant historical presence — before we lost 90 percent of the riparian areas it depends on.”
To date, support for Endangered Species Act protection for Arizona’s desert nesting bald eagle has been filed by the following organizations and desert nesting bald eagle experts (click to see the letters): The Raptor Research Foundation, Arizona Audubon, Center for Biological Diversity, Richard Glinski, Robert Magill, Steve Hoffman, Ron Horejsi, E. Linwood Smith, Robert Ohmart, R. William Mannan, Robert Steidl, Clayton White, William Mader, John Gunn, and Rich Erman.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has also rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to recognize the population’s designation as a “distinct population segment.”
Wednesday’s motion was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon, the Intertribal Council of Arizona, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Attorneys Dan Rohlf of Lewis & Clark Law School Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Howard Shanker of Flagstaff represent the Center and Maricopa Audubon in this case.
Only about 60 breeding pairs of desert nesting bald eagles survive. They are reproductively, geographically, biologically, and behaviorally distinct from all other bald eagle populations, and occupy uniquely hot and dry habitat. Unique populations and their habitat qualify for Endangered Species Act protection with a designation as a “distinct population segment.”
Increasing habitat threats represent the gravest risk to nesting eagles in Arizona, mostly because of increasing groundwater pumping drying up streamside nesting habitat. The Endangered Species Act is the only law that protects the habitat of imperiled wildlife.
On October 6, 2004, the Center and Maricopa Audubon filed a petition requesting increased protection for the bald eagle in Arizona. The petition was based on evidence of increasing threats to habitat and presentation of data from a suppressed Arizona Game and Fish Department study that demonstrated likely extinction of nesting bald eagles from Arizona in 57 to 82 years. Future extinction is likely in spite of recent population gains, due to high mortalities of juveniles and adults.
On August 30, 2006, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the petition by the Center and Maricopa Audubon, and on July 9, 2007, it removed Endangered Species Act protection from all bald eagles nationwide. On January 4, 2007, the Center and Maricopa Audubon filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the rejection of the petition and inclusion of Arizona’s desert nesting bald eagle in the nationwide removal of Endangered Species Protection. The San Carlos Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation, Tonto Apache Tribe, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community all joined the lawsuit to help protect the desert nesting bald eagle.
On March 5, 2008, Murguia reversed the Service’s 2006 petition rejection, calling it “arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law.” She also reinstated Endangered Species Act protection for the eagle and its habitat in Arizona and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a re-evaluation of its 2006 decision within nine months, by December 5th.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.