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Arizona's bald eagles no longer carry protected status under the federal Endangered Species Act. (AP Photo/Arizona Republic, Mark Henle)

Judge: Protection not needed for Arizona bald eagles

October 02, 2010 at 11:38 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that bald eagles in Arizona can be removed from the federal threatened- and endangered-species list.

U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had complied with her earlier order to review the status of the population.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found Arizona’s 200-plus bald eagles should not be considered separately from the more than 20,000 birds in the U.S. The birds nationwide were removed in 2007.

The conservation group Center for Biological Diversity said Friday it will file a lawsuit seeking to keep the state’s eagle protected.

Murguia did not address the larger issue of whether Arizona’s desert nesting eagles deserve greater protection than other eagles, only that the agency had completed the review she required. The Arizona Republic reported that her ruling was dated Thursday.

The Wildlife Service’s review concluded that the Arizona eagles were not biologically distinct enough to warrant continued protection. Many biologists contend the Arizona population is separate from other eagles in the contiguous 48 states.

The bird will not be removed from the threatened-species list until the agency formally affirms its decision. Murguia lifted an injunction she issued in March 2008 preventing the agency from taking that action.

A spokesman for Fish and Wildlife said the agency could not comment until it more closely studied Murguia’s 11-page decision.

Center for Biological Diversity co-founder Robin Silver called the ruling devastating. He said his group would file a new lawsuit to seek not only a new injunction against delisting Arizona’s eagles, but a trial examining the wildlife agency’s actions.

“The opinion of every recognized bald-eagle expert is that the desert nesting eagle is distinct and important,” Silver said. “We need to investigate the motivations of this agency.”

Fish and Wildlife can designate distinct populations of a species and treat them differently under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. A distinct population must be separate and exhibit biologically different traits that would be lost if it disappeared.

Although the government review found the desert nesting bald eagle is separate from other populations, it said they did not appear to show any distinguishing traits important to the species as a whole.

Silver said the agency’s own scientists have disagreed but were overruled, first in 2007 under President George W. Bush’s administration and again as recently as 2009, under President Barack Obama.

Conservation groups say the threatened-species listing is critical for the Arizona eagle because it preserves protections on eagle habitat. Without the listing, the eagles are still protected under state and federal law, but their nesting areas lose the extra safeguards.

Arizona manages its own bald-eagle program, monitoring nests and surveying the population. None of that will change, said James Driscoll, raptor-management coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“The goal of the program for a long time has been to produce as many babies in Arizona as possible,” Driscoll said. “By doing that, we can better increase the population size. We’ve been able to increase our eagle population fourfold over 20 years.”

A recent survey found a record 104 adult breeding eagles in 52 active nesting areas in Arizona.

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I hope that jugde has a heart to change his or her’s mind. The bald eagle is our country’s national symbol and should have respect. Even if the number of them has increased I feel they deserve to still be protected.Maybe their population has increased because they are protected. By them not being protected their number will probaly go down. They still get shot at even being protected sometimes which is a shame. Whose to say worse might happen to them if not protected.  I love them and all animals. The bald eagle is a beautiful and majestic bird. Anyone who read this and loves them too should say something too. I do hope that conservation group fights to protect my favortie animal in the world and wins.

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