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Desert nesting bald eagle

The Arizona Republic, September 2, 2008

Judge grants extension of bald-eagle protection
By Kate Nolan

Arizona bald eagles won another round Friday toward maintaining their Endangered Species Act protection.

In U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Judge Mary Murguia granted a motion filed by Indian tribes and the Center for Biological Diversity to extend bald-eagle protection through Oct. 12, 2009. The motion is related to a lawsuit seeking to have Arizona eagles protected separately as a distinct population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in July 2007 ended the endangered-status protection for all bald eagles in the contiguous states.

Murgiua's order gives tribes more time to confirm the number of eagles that existed in Arizona before development. The tribes believe findings will show there were more eagles in Arizona historically than acknowledged by Fish and Wildlife.

Tribal leaders have embraced the ruling.

"That was a very fair decision," said John Lewis, director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. "The tribes have demonstrated there was a need for adequate consultation that didn't take place, and also a need for . . . putting out the tribal perspective on the issue."

The action follows Murguia's March decision calling for a new assessment of the eagles, which number fewer than 50 breeding pairs. At that time, she ordered Fish and Wildlife to maintain the birds' endangered-status protection and perform a status review with input from the tribes. Her Dec. 5 deadline for a decision on the endangered-status question has now been postponed until October.

Conservation groups and biologists, including the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which manages the state bald-eagle program, have already submitted scientific documents to Fish and Wildlife.

In an effort led by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the tribes are preparing to submit historical, biological and cultural information rarely shared with non-Indians.

Gov. Janet Napolitano supported the motion to extend the court deadline, as did U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

"We are in support of as much tribal coordination as we can do," said Arizona field supervisor Steve Spangle.

Copyright © 2008, azcentral.com.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton