PHOENIX— The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon Society filed a lawsuit today to reinstate Endangered Species Act protection for desert nesting bald eagles. The suit seeks to return protections removed last week by U.S. District Court Judge Mary H. Murguia.
“With only about 50 breeding pairs left, and facing increasing habitat threats this bird desperately needs federal protection in order to survive,” said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center.
Murguia on Friday granted a request by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the desert nesting bald eagle from the endangered species list but did not examine the agency decision itself. Today’s lawsuit challenges the basis of the agency’s February 2010 decision to remove protections from the eagle.
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 bald eagle 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.” That decision was finalized July 9, 2007.
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.”
“Hopefully today’s suit will put science, not politics, front and center in determining the fate of this eagle,” Silver said.
The biggest threats to the eagle are increasing habitat destruction and human harassment. The Endangered Species Act is the only law protecting eagle habitat.
Without Endangered Species Act protection, eagle habitat-destroying grazing and ORV abuse can resume, and the mandatory requirement for agency funding of the NestWatch program will no longer be necessary. NestWatch provides onsite protection for the most threatened eagle nests and has rescued 9.4 percent of all young eagles fledged in Arizona between 1983 and 2005, including up to 50 percent of a given year’s reproduction.