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Desert nesting bald eagle
Verde Independent , December 1, 2011

Eagle decision on hold again
By Steve Ayers

VERDE RIVER - A four-year battle between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a group of plaintiffs advocating continued protection of Arizona's bald eagles under the Endangered Species Act has taken another turn in the courts.

On Wednesday, U. S. District Court Judge David Campbell issued a summary judgment declaring that a USFWS finding that Arizona's desert nesting bald eagles are not a "distinct population segment" was "procedurally flawed" and an "abuse of discretion."

The judge has ruled that the agency must complete a new "12-month finding," by April 20, 2012, based on information and comment gathered following the last federal judge's order to reconsider their findings.

The decision is the second one passed down from the federal bench admonishing the agency for using information from a decision made in 2007 to delist all bald eagles, which both courts have agreed did not comply with "notice, comment and consultation requirements of the law."

"The USFWS has continued to ignore science and a judge has looked at their decision for a second time and rejected it. At some point we need to find out why," says Robin Silver with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in1966, one of the first species to enjoy federal protection was the bald eagle.

Since then the population has seen a dramatic rebound in the lower 48 states. Estimates by the USFWS show that the number of breeding pairs increased from a low of 487 in 1963 to nearly 10,000 on 2007.

Their status was downgraded from endangered to threatened in 1995. In 2007, the USFWS delisting the birds entirely.

That agency's notice in 2004 that it intended to delist the birds caused the CBD, an organization that advocates on behalf of threatened and endangered species, to file suit, seeking continued listing of the birds because they were different from other bald eagles.

A clause in the ESA allows for continued protection if a particular group is shown to be a "distinct Population Segment," and that removing the protections would compromise its ability to survive.

The CBD has argued since 2004 that Arizona's desert nesting bald eagles are a distinct subspecies of the American bald eagles based on the best available science. Numerous USFWS scientist have agreed.

USFWS spokesperson Jeff Humphreys says the agency has yet to review the judge's decision.

"Because its in litigation and we haven't heard back from our solicitors we are not in a position to comment yet. It will probably be a couple weeks before we have any direction," Humphreys says.

© Copyright 2011 Western News&Info, Inc

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton