Bald and golden eagle protection and permitting

The Bald Eagle is an Endangered Species Act success story. Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population.

Bald eagle. Credit:USFWS

Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government's banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery. So while bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently, both bald and golden eagles remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act (Eagle Act).

Learn more about eagles...

Eagle take permitting

Bald Eagles were originally protected federally when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940. In 1962, Congress amended the Eagle Act to also include golden eagles recognizing that the population of the golden eagle had declined at such an alarming rate that it was threatened with extinction. At this time, the law was renamed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Golden eagle. Credit: USFWS

This law provides specific protection for bald and golden eagles by prohibiting take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase, or barter, transport, or export/import of any eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit (16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22).

The term "take" includes to "pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb."

Civil penalties for violating provisions of the Act are 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.

In 2009, regulations were passed to allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to permit limited take of eagles (50 CFR 22.26) and their nests (50 CFR 22.27). These permitting regulations were recently revised in 2016. For more information on the recent revisions, click here.

Under these regulations, the Service can issue limited permits that authorize individual instances of take of bald and golden eagles when the take is associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity, and cannot practicably be avoided. The revised regulations include both short-term (≤ 5 years) and long-term permits (5-30 years) for this incidental eagle take. The regulations also allow for permitting eagle nest take, take of depredating eagles, research of eagles, possession of eagles for education purposes, and Native American possession of eagle feathers and parts for religious and cultural purposes.

As the Service’s objective is to maintain stable or increasing breeding populations of eagles, the Service cannot issue an eagle take permit if doing so would decrease the overall number of eagles in the regional and local eagle populations. However, the Service takes into consideration any proposed compensatory mitigation actions that offset fatalities by reducing another potential eagle fatality in the region when issuing a permit.

Application forms...

Eagles and industry

The nation’s interest in increasing its production of domestic energy and advances in wind energy technologies have resulted in rapid expansion of the wind energy industry in the United States. This lead the Service to develop Voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines in 2012 that will help shape the smart siting, design and operation of the nation's wind energy operations and provide a structured, scientific process for addressing wildlife conservation concerns at all stages of land-based wind energy development.

In addition, these voluntary guidelines provide Best Management Practices for site development, construction, retrofitting, repowering, and decommissioning. The guidelines also promote effective communication among developers and federal, state, tribal, and local conservation agencies. Both developers and wildlife agencies have recognized the need for a system to evaluate and address the potential negative impacts of wind energy projects on species of concern.

The Service recognizes that industrial facilities, even those developed and operated with the utmost effort to conserve wildlife, may, under some circumstances, result in the "take" of eagles. Thus, the Service has also developed eagle conservation plan guidance to provide recommendations for measures to manage and mitigate impact to eagles from industrial development. Although targeted to wind energy development, many of the concepts and approaches outlined in this guidance document can be readily exported to other situations such as solar facilities, electric power lines, etc. Eagle Conservation Plans may serve as the foundation for long-term eagle take permit applications.

Renewable energy development in Califnornia, Nevada and the Klamath Basin...

Eagle conservation plan guidance

As, wind energy developers and wildlife agencies have recognized a need for specific guidance to help make wind energy facilities compatible with eagle conservation and the laws and regulations that protect eagles. To meet this need, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance (ECPG).

This document provides specific, in‐depth guidance for conserving bald and golden eagles in the course of siting, constructing, and operating wind energy facilities. The ECPG guidance supplements the Service's Land‐Based Wind Energy Guidelines (WEG). WEG provides a broad overview of wildlife considerations for siting and operating wind energy facilities, but does not address the in‐depth guidance needed for the specific legal protections afforded to bald and golden eagles. The ECPG fills this gap.

Like the Wind Energy Guidance, the ECPG calls for wind project developers to take a staged approach to siting new projects. Both call for preliminary landscape‐level assessments to assess potential wildlife interactions and proceed to site‐specific surveys and risk assessments prior to construction.

They also call for monitoring project operations and reporting eagle fatalities to the Service and state and tribal wildlife agencies.

While compliance with the ECPG is voluntary, the Service believes that following the guidance will help project operators comply with regulatory requirements and avoid the unintentional "take" of eagles at wind energy facilities, and will also assist the wind energy industry in providing the biological data needed to support permit applications for facilities that may pose a risk to eagles.

Application forms...

Permits under the MBTA that may also pertain to eagles

As authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to qualified applicants for the following types of activities: falconry, raptor propagation, scientific collecting, special purposes (rehabilitation, educational, migratory game bird propagation, and salvage), take of depredating birds, taxidermy, and waterfowl sale and disposal.

Migratory bird permit policy is developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the permits themselves are issued by regional bird permit offices. The regulations governing migratory bird permits can be found in 50 CFR part 13 (General Permit Procedures) and 50 CFR part 21 (Migratory Bird Permits). Application and Annual Report Forms for MBTA permits can be found here.

Application and Annual Report Forms for MBTA permits...

Frequently asked questions

How do eagle take permits protect eagles?
A permittee that takes eagles under the authority of a permit must implement measures to avoid, minimize, and otherwise mitigate threats to eagles. To ensure permit issuance is consistent with the goal of stable or increasing eagle populations, compensatory mitigation that offsets eagle mortality may also be required for permit issuance.

How do I apply for an eagle take permit?
Prospective permittees apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office using an application form specifically tailored to their proposed activity. The information collected through permit applications is used to determine whether or not the individual qualifies for the type of migratory bird-related permit for which you have applied. You may obtain an application online, or by contacting a Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office near you. The form used for permits is the "Eagle Incidental Take" form found here.

Where do I mail my application?
Permit applications must be mailed to the Regional FWS Permit Office in the region where you are located. Find the address on our list of Regional Migratory Bird Permit Offices.

Who to contact with questions about migratory bird permits?

Contact our Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office:

Pacific Southwest Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Migratory Bird Permit Office
2800 Cottage Way Sacramento, CA 95825

Tel. (916) 414-6464
Fax (916) 414-6486
Email: permitsR8MB@fws.gov
(Please include your telephone number in the text of your message so we may better serve you).