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Conserving the Nature of America
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Federal Laws that Protect Bald and Golden Eagles
Bald Eagles are no longer an endangered species, but bald and golden eagles are still protected by multiple federal laws, such as the Eagle Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, and other state and municipal protections. Eagles, their feathers and parts, nests, nest trees, and winter/nighttime roosts are all protected by federal laws.
The Eagle Act prohibits anyone from taking, possessing, or transporting any eagle or eagle parts (including nests, eggs, feathers, etc) without prior authorization. This includes inactive nests as well as active nests. Activities that directly or indirectly lead to take are prohibited without a permit.
There are a number of different types of permits available for authorizing take, possession, and transport of bald and golden eagles. This website explains the most commonly used authorizations (permits) that are available for people whose activities may “take” eagles or their nests.
To view the official regulations governing Eagle Permits, see Code of the Federal Register: 50 Part 22.
Photo courtesy of Chris McDonald
Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
The bald eagle is protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act even though it has been delisted under the Endangered Species Act. This law, originally passed in 1940, provides for the protection of the bald eagle and the golden eagle (as amended in 1962) by prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit(16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22). "Take" includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb (16 U.S.C. 668c; 50 CFR 22.3). The 1972 amendments increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the Act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. The fine doubles for an organization. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the Act.
Penalties associated with violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act the first criminal offense is a misdemeanor with maximum penalty of one year in prison and $100,000 fine for an individual ($200,000 for an organization). The second offense becomes a felony with maximum penalty of 2 years in prison and $250,000 fine for individual ($500,000 for an “organization” such as a business). The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also provides for maximum civil penalties of $5,000 for each violation.
Recent convictions under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
A West Virginia man was convicted in federal court for killing a bald eagle and sentenced to serve six days in federal prison, 11 months and 26 days of home confinement, and five years supervised probation; he must also forfeit the rifle used to kill the eagle and pay $3,301 in jail and court fees.
In September 2005, a Florida land development company responsible for the destruction of an eagle nest tree on property where it was building a housing development in Collier County, Florida, pleaded guilty to violating Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and was fined $356,125 – one of the largest penalties ever assessed under this statute. An individual associated with the company also pleaded guilty to violating the BGEPA and was sentenced in April 2006 to a $5,000 fine and three years on probation.
In January 2005, two defendants who cut down a tree containing a bald eagle nest in Sarasota County, Florida, pleaded guilty to violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. One defendant was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and contribute $80,000 in restitution ($40,000 to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and $40,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Florida Bald Eagle Conservation Fund). The other was fined $10,000 and ordered to forfeit the chainsaw used to commit the crime.
Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Code of Federal Regulations)
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a Federal law that carries out the United States commitment to four international conventions with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Russia. Those conventions protect birds that migrate across international borders.
The take of all migratory birds, including bald eagles, is governed by the Migratory Birds Treaty Acts regulations. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits the taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests except as authorized under a valid permit (50 CFR 21.11). Additionally, the MBTA authorizes and directs the Secretary of the Interior to determine if, and by what means, the take of migratory birds should be allowed and to adopt suitable regulations permitting and governing take (for example, hunting seasons for ducks and geese).
Penalties under the MBTA include a maximum of two years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for a felony conviction and six months imprisonment or $5,000 fine for a misdemeanor conviction. Fines double if the violator is an organization rather than an individual.
The MBTA and its implementing regulations provide authority for the conservation of bald eagles and protect against take if the Endangered Species Act protections are removed.
Penalties associated with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, take alone is a misdemeanor violation with maximum penalty of six months in prison and $15,000 fine, and commercialization is a felony violation with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and $250,000 fine ($500,000 for an organization).
The Lacy Act was passed in 1900, and protects bald eagles by making it a Federal offense to take, possess, transport, sell, import, or export their nests, eggs and parts that are taken in violation of any state, tribal or U.S. law. It also prohibits false records, labels, or identification of wildlife shipped, prohibits importation of injurious species and prohibits shipment of fish or wildlife in an inhumane manner. Penalties include a maximum of five years and $250,000 fine for felony convictions and a maximum $10,000 fine for civil violations and $250 for marking violations. Fines double for organizations. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction. violation of the Act.
Note: A person or organization could be prosecuted under multiple federal laws for the same activity.