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Desert nesting bald eagle

Gallup Independent, September 15, 2008

Navajo protects eagles
Adds raptors to Navajo Endangered Species List
By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau

WINDOW ROCK — The federal government took the bald eagle off its Endangered Species Act’s “threatened” list in June 2007. Last week, the Navajo Nation placed it on the Navajo Endangered Species List.

The Nation, through the Resources Committee, also approved nest protection regulations for golden and bald eagles as well as raptor electrocution prevention regulations. The legislations became final with Resources’ approval.

During the 100 years leading up to 1970, bald eagle populations declined because of hunting, loss of habitat, and use of DDT, an insecticide that made the eagle’s eggshells so weak it had problems reproducing. There were only 417 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963. In 1972, the bald eagle gained federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Since removal from the federal “threatened” list, the bald eagle still has a measure of protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits anyone without a permit from “taking” bald eagles, including their parts, nests and eggs.

However, the birds are easily affected by development and their habitat is less protected under those regulations. While there are more than 9,000 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states, only 43 of those pairs are known to be in Arizona.

Norman John II, a member of the Resources Committee, sponsored the legislations, drafts of which were presented to the committee earlier this year by David Mikesic, a zoologist with Navajo Fish & Wildlife.

Fish & Wildlife ‘s Jeff Cole told the committee that the Navajo Nation Code calls for an Endangered Species List and also states that the list will be amended every couple years.

“The last time it was amended was in 2005. We think it’s time once again to amend the list, and the process we go through to amend the list is our field personnel go out in the field and they look at birds and fish and plants and so on, and they make a recommendation if the status goes up or down.”

The document is drafted and sent to people who work on the Navajo Nation for public comment. “We’ve solicited comments from probably a hundred different organizations and agencies that work around here,” Cole said.

Besides the bald eagle, several plant species were added to the endangered list, including milk cronquist. milk-vetch, naturita milk-vetch, round dunebroom, Navajo bladderpod, alcove rock daisy and alcove death camas. Resources’ Harry Clark said it would be more helpful if the species were given Navajo names.

“My understanding is certain species are off the federal endangered species list. If we support this, I would also expect that the program would support this committee when the Hopi person comes to request for a permit to gather eaglets,” said Resources Chairman George Arthur.

Cole said the regulations do not conflict in any way with the Intergovernmental Compact regarding Hopi gathering of eaglets. “This helps to implement the agreement that the Navajo Nation does have with the Hopi Tribe as far as protecting these sites,” he said.

The purpose of the nest protection regulations is to promote the conservation of breeding eagles on the Navajo Nation by protecting their nests from human activities that may cause temporary or permanent disturbance.

Protection of occupied and unoccupied nests is important because not all adult eagle pairs breed every year and not all breeding areas are used each year. Breeding areas may be reoccupied and nests may be rebuilt and used even if left unattended for a number of years.

Arthur said it also was mentioned earlier this year about the possibility of Navajo Fish & Wildlife establishing its own repository for eagle feathers within Navajo. He suggested the program come back and give a report regarding the matter. “As Diné people we value and we protect and we preserve the feathers of these two species,” John said.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton