PHOENIX, Ariz.— A federal judge today granted a request by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the desert nesting bald eagle from the endangered species list unless and until the Center for Biological Diversity successfully challenges the agency’s February 2010 decision taking the species off the list.
On July 9, 2007, the Bush administration overruled Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, ordering the agency to remove the desert nesting bald eagle from the endangered species list. It had been on the list since the 1970s. The Center filed suit and on March 6, 2008, U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murguia struck down the delisting decision and ordered the agency to return the bald eagle to the endangered species list.
On Feb. 24, 2010, the Obama administration issued a new decision also removing protections from the eagle. This new decision uses the same flawed logic as the 2007 Bush-era decision and also involved agency bureaucrats overruling agency scientists.
The Center had asked the judge to keep the species on the list until the new decision was legally challenged and resolved. The judge denied that request, telling the Center it first needed to file suit and prove the new decision is illegal.
“The Obama administration’s decision earlier this year was just as politically tainted as the Bush decision in 2007,” said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center. “We look forward to proving that in court in a suit we plan to file shortly.”
For more than three decades, every recognized bald eagle expert has acknowledged the fact that the desert nesting bald eagle is unique and important to the species as a whole. But on July 18, 2006, Fish and Wildlife Service career administrators gave their staff “marching orders” to abruptly reverse their opinion and “to find an analysis that works.”
On March 5, 2008, Judge Murguia called the agency actions “arbitrary and capricious.” She ordered the agency to issue a new evaluation, and issued an injunction against lifting protection for the eagle in the interim.
On Dec. 9, 2009, after agency bald eagle experts again reinforced their opinion that the desert nesting bald eagle is unique and important to the species as a whole, career administrators again ordered the eagle experts to reverse their position, saying, “My staff will work with you on development of the revised version of the finding.”
The biggest threats to the eagle are increasing habitat destruction and human harassment — and the judge’s protective order had been the only law protecting eagle habitat. Today’s order also removes the requirement for mandatory mitigation funding of the NestWatch program.
NestWatch provides on-site protection for the most threatened eagle nests beginning in the middle of December of each year. Between 1983 and 2005, NestWatch rescued 9.4 percent of all young eagles fledged in Arizona, including up to 50 percent of a given year’s reproduction. Until this ruling, agencies such as the Salt River Project, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Defense had been required to contribute yearly money to the NestWatch program to make up for destruction of habitat and harm to eagles.