Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: November 3, 2006

Contact: Robin Silver, M.D., Board Chair, Center for Biological Diversity, 602-246-4170
Bob Witzeman, M.D., Conservation Chair, Maricopa Audubon Society, 602-840-0052
Justin Augustine, Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-436-9682

Conservation Groups Challenge Bush Administration Denial
of Protection for Arizona’s Bald Eagles

PHOENIX , Ariz. – The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society filed notice yesterday afternoon of their intent to bring a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failure to adequately protect the Southwestern Desert Nesting Bald Eagle. USFWS failed to follow proper procedures in their August 30, 2006 rejection of a petition to protect the Southwestern Desert Nesting Bald Eagle as an endangered Distinct Population Segment under the Endangered Species Act. The petition was filed October 6, 2004.

The Desert Nesting Bald Eagle is among the rarest birds on Earth. Fewer than 100 survive, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s July 2006 data.

The Desert Nesting Bald Eagle is an exclusive resident of the Southwest. A few live in Mexico, but most live in Arizona. Survival of the Southwest’s Bald Eagles is challenged by their isolation from all other Bald Eagles, behaviorally, biologically and ecologically. The only Bald Eagles to nest in the desert, they breed earlier in the season to avoid intense summer heat, and essentially never interbreed with Bald Eagles that nest elsewhere.

Yet despite the precarious position of the Southwestern Desert Nesting Bald Eagle, the clear and urgent need to keep it protected under the Endangered Species Act has been lost in a rush to remove Bald Eagles nationwide from the endangered species list.

The Bald Eagle is America’s national symbol, and until August 30, 2006, USFWS called the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle a “Treasure of the Southwest.” But in its August 30 rejection of the petition to protect the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle, USFWS contradicted itself and asserted that the Southwest’s Bald Eagles are not significant enough to protect.

Removing endangered status for Desert Nesting Bald Eagles also removes protection for their habitat, opening more land to development, water diversion and public lands livestock grazing.

“We have already lost more than 90 percent of our riparian habitat in the Southwest. Removal of Endangered Species Act protection for the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle will ensure that we will lose much more,” said Dr. Silver. “Ultimately, if we fail, we will lose our Desert Nesting Bald Eagles.”

“If the Bush administration’s rejection of the petition stands and delisting [removal of Endangered Species Act protection] moves forward, there will be no habitat protection for Arizona’s Bald Eagles,” said Dr. Robert Witzeman, Maricopa Audubon Society Conservation Chair.

The Raptor Research Foundation expresses similar concerns in their recent comments regarding proposed Bald Eagle delisting:

“[W]e do not believe that the Southwest Bald Eagle population is secure, and we question whether even current numbers can be sustained without active management and habitat protection.  USFWS may wish to reconsider the possibilities of designating the Southwest recovery region as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and deferring delisting of the Southwest population until data are available that demonstrate the population is sufficiently large and self-sustaining."

Additionally, in 2003, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) suppressed a report in which researchers found that “[a]lthough counts of breeding adults increased 4% per year over this period [1977 – 2003], productivity and survivorship estimates led to a model of population dynamics that predicted the population was declining.”

Owing to high juvenile and adult mortalities in such a small population, the petition confirms the results of AGFD’s suppressed study. Independent of increasing habitat risks, the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle population faces a significant risk of extinction within the next 54 to 87 years.

Today’s notice is the first mandatory step toward court action to ensure Endangered Species Act protection for the Desert Nesting Bald Eagle. The Center and Maricopa Audubon Society intend to file suit in Federal District Court in 60 days if USFWS (1) refuses to reverse rejection of the petition, (2) refuses to undertake a new Desert Nesting Bald Eagle status review, and (3) refuses to terminate its announced intention of removing Endangered Species Act protection for the population.

The Bald Eagle was afforded Endangered Species Act protection in 1978 owing to the inadequacy of habitat protection by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.

Maricopa Audubon Society is an organization of volunteers dedicated to the enjoyment of birds and other wildlife with a primary focus on the protection and restoration of the habitat of the Southwest through fellowship, education, and community involvement.


more press releases. . .

Go back