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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reopens Comment Period on Removing the Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species Act, Seeks Comment on Management Tools

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 13, 2006

Contacts:
Chris Tollefson, 202/208-5634




The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed voluntary guidelines and a regulatory definition designed to help landowners and others understand how they can help ensure that bald eagles continue to be protected consistent with existing law. The Service also reopened the public comment period on its original 1999 proposal to remove the bald eagle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species, in order to solicit current information regarding bald eagle populations and trends and to give the public time to comment on the proposed delisting in light of the draft voluntary guidelines.

“The recovery of the bald eagle, our national symbol, is also a great national success story,” said H. Dale Hall, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The actions we take today reemphasize the management efforts that have proven so successful in recovering eagle populations. Should the eagle be delisted, we expect that the public will notice little change in how eagles are managed and protected.”

Hall noted that when they are delisted from the Endangered Species Act, bald eagles will continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Both acts protect bald eagles by prohibiting killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs.

The draft voluntary National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines are not federal regulations. They are intended to provide information for people who engage in recreation or land use activities on how to avoid impacts to eagles prohibited by these two federal laws. The guidelines are crafted to reflect the current way that federal and state managers interpret BGEPA and MBTA. For example, the guidelines recommend buffers around nests when conducting activities that are likely to disturb bald eagles. These areas serve to screen nesting eagles from noise and visual distractions caused by human activities.

The Service is also proposing a regulation to clarify the term “disturb” under BGEPA that is consistent with existing federal and state interpretation. Under the clarification, “disturb” would be defined as actions that disrupt the breeding, feeding or sheltering practices of an eagle, causing injury, death or nest abandonment. This is the standard the Service has used informally over the years and how states have interpreted the statute. The proposed regulation defining “disturb” would codify it. This definition will provide clarity to the public while continuing protection for bald eagles, which will help ensure an almost seamless transition from ESA listing to delisting.

The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the Union except Hawaii. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48. Since the delisting proposal in 1999, recovery of the bald eagle has continued to progress at an impressive rate. In 2000, the last year a national bald eagle census was conducted, there were an estimated 6471 nesting pairs of bald eagles.

Today this number has risen to an estimated 7,066 nesting pairs, due to recovery efforts by the Service, other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, conservation organizations, universities, corporations and thousands of individual Americans. Five regional recovery plans were created for the bald eagle. The delisting criteria for all five plans were met or exceeded by the year 2000.

If the bald eagle is delisted, the Service will work with state wildlife agencies to monitor the status of the species for a minimum of five years, as required by the Endangered Species Act. A draft monitoring plan is expected to be released for public comment should the species be delisted. If at any time it becomes evident that the bald eagle again needs the Act’s protection, the Service will propose to relist the species.

The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940, when Congress passed the predecessor to the Bald Eagle Protection Act. The Act, which was later amended to include golden eagles, increased public awareness of the bald eagle. Soon after, populations stabilized or increased in most areas of the country. However, declines in its numbers during later decades caused the bald eagle to be protected in 1967 under the federal law preceding the current Endangered Species Act.

The legal protections given the species, along with a crucial decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of the pesticide DDT in 1972, provided the springboard for the Service and its partners to accelerate the pace of recovery through captive breeding programs, reintroduction, law enforcement efforts, protection of habitat around nest sites during the breeding season and land purchase and preservation.

The success of these efforts resulted in the recovery of the species to the point that in 1995 its listing status was changed from endangered to threatened in most states in the continental U.S. – with the exception of Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, where it was always designated as threatened. The species was never listed as threatened or endangered in Alaska.

The Service’s re-opening of the public comment period on the proposed delisting, the draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and the proposed definition of term “disturb” will be published in the Federal Register.

  • Comments on the proposed delisting, draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and draft definition of the term “disturb” must be received by May 17, 2006.

  • Comments on the proposed delisting should be sent to Michelle Morgan, Chief, Branch of Recovery and Delisting, Endangered Species Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Headquarters Office, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments on the proposed delisting may also be transmitted electronically at <baldeagledelisting@fws.gov>.

  • Comments on the draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines should be sent to Brian Millsap, Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MBSP-4107, Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments on the draft guidelines may also be transmitted electronically at <baldeagle_managementguidelines@fws.gov>.

  • Comments on the draft definition of the term “disturb” should be sent to Brian Millsap at the above address. Comments on the definition of “disturb” may also be transmitted electronically at <baldeagle_proposedrule@fws.gov>.

  • Alternatively, comments on any of the above three documents may also be transmitted electronically at the federal eRulemaking Portal: <http://www.regulations.gov>. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

 


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