[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 21 (Tuesday, February 1, 2022)]
[Pages 5493-5495]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-02040]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0138; FF09M27000-212-FXMB123109EAGLE]

Eagle Permits; Updated Bald Eagle Population Estimates and Take 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: In December 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service, 
or we) completed a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) 
wherein we evaluated biological data to establish maximum take limits 
for permits to take bald eagles in each of six eagle management units 
in the United States. In the PEIS, we committed to reevaluate 
biological data and reassess the take limits no less than once every 6 
years. This notice is to inform the public that we have reviewed recent 
data and, using updated population and demographic models, are revising 
take limits for bald eagles effective immediately.

DATES: The maximum allowable take limits set forth in this document are 
effective February 1, 2022.

ADDRESSES: Supplementary documents for this notice may be obtained from 
http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0138.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian A. Millsap, National Raptor 
Coordinator, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, at 505-559-3963.



    Our authority to authorize take of eagles is derived from the 
Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712) and the Bald and Golden 
Eagle Protection Act (hereafter Eagle Act; 16 U.S.C. 668-668d). The 
Eagle Act further specifies that take of eagles may only be authorized 
after a finding that the take is compatible with the preservation of 
the bald eagle or the golden eagle. Through regulations in part 22 of 
title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Service issues 
eagle take permits for several specific purposes, including scientific 
or Tribal religious purposes and preventing depredations on livestock 
and collisions with airplanes near airports. However, the majority of 
permits the Service issues to authorize take of eagles are for 
incidental take; that is, take that is associated with, but not the 
purpose of, a human activity (50 CFR 22.26). The definition of ``take'' 
under the Eagle Act includes ``pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, 
kill, capture, trap, collect, destroy, molest, or disturb'' (16 U.S.C. 
668c; 50 CFR 22.3).
    In 2016, we revised the permit regulations governing eagle 
incidental take (81 FR 91494, December 16, 2016). As part of that 
rulemaking action, we completed a biological status assessment for both 
bald and golden eagles and a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement. These documents and other supporting information for the 
2016 rule are available in Docket No. FWS-R9-MB-2011-0094 at http://www.regulations.gov. The 2016 rulemaking action and supplementary 
documents implemented the following actions:
    (1) Established six eagle management units (EMUs) for bald eagles--
the Atlantic Flyway, Mississippi Flyway, Central Flyway, Pacific Flyway 
north of 40[deg] north latitude, Pacific Flyway south of 40[deg] north 
latitude, and Alaska;
    (2) Established a bald eagle management objective of maintaining 
stable or increasing breeding populations in all EMUs, and the 
persistence of local populations throughout the geographic range;
    (3) Used the 20th quantiles of the bald eagle population size 
estimates for each EMU for permitting purposes and presented those 
values (use of the 20th quantile of the probability distributions for 
the population size estimates was a policy decision made by the Service 
in the 2016 PEIS to conservatively addresses the uncertainty in the 
population size estimates to ensure the take limits are compatible with 
the management objective for bald eagles);
    (4) Established a specific take rate for bald eagles in the Pacific 
Flyway South EMU and a general take rate across the other EMUs that was 
consistent with the management objective;
    (5) Set take limits in each EMU based on the appropriate take rate 
and the 20th quantile of the EMU population size estimate; and
    (6) Established a schedule for conducting eagle surveys and 
committed to updating population size estimates and, if warranted, take 
rates and take limits no less than once every 6 years.
    The 2016 status report and PEIS used bald eagle count data from 
2009 to arrive at a U.S. population estimate of 143,000 bald eagles 
(20th quantile = 126,000). The schedule established in the PEIS called 
for the Service to update bald-eagle-population size and take limits in 
2022. However, as part of the 2019 settlement agreement for Energy and 
Wildlife Action Coalition v. Department of the Interior et al. (a case 
challenging aspects of our authority to issue eagle permits), the 
Service agreed to expedite the next update of the bald-eagle-population 
size and appropriate take rate. We completed one new survey of occupied 
bald eagle nesting territories in the coterminous United States 
(excluding the Pacific Flyway South EMU, for reasons explained below) 
in 2019 and have since completed the necessary scientific analyses for 
the expedited update.

Updated Data and Take Limits

    Through this document, we are providing public notice of the 
updated bald eagle population size, take rate, and take limits used to 
guide issuance of bald eagle take permits for all but the Alaska and 
Pacific Flyway South bald eagle EMUs. We did not implement surveys in 
Alaska because we did not have the financial or logistical resources. 
In the Pacific Flyway South EMU bald eagles are relatively scarce and 
patchily distributed, making aerial surveys impractical. Take limits 
for these two EMUs will remain as reported in the 2016 PEIS until we 
are able to acquire and conduct separate analyses of new information 
from these populations.
    For this update, we implemented several improvements to the data 
and models we use to generate the relevant demographic, population 
size, and take rate estimates. These changes are discussed in detail in 
a technical report that can be obtained from http://www.regulations.gov 
in Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0138. In brief, we:
    (1) Collaborated with the Cornell University Laboratory of 
Ornithology to use eBird citizen-science information to improve our 
estimates of the number of occupied bald eagle nesting territories. The 
Service's aerial bald eagle nesting territory survey covers areas of 
the coterminous United States that have high densities of nesting bald 
eagles, but these surveys are not efficient in, and thus are not 
conducted in, areas where nests are sparse. However, eBird bald eagle 
relative abundance estimates are available for nearly all areas in the 
coterminous United States. For the 2009 bald eagle population size 
estimate, we used counts of known bald eagle nests provided by State 
fish and wildlife agencies as a conservative estimate of the number of 
occupied bald eagle nesting territories outside of the areas covered by 
the aerial survey. Many States no longer track bald eagle nests, 
however, so this process was not a viable option for this update. 
Instead, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Service scientists used 
aerial survey and eBird relative abundance data from areas where both 
data types were available to develop a model that accurately predicted 
bald eagle nest density from eBird relative abundance values. We then 
used this model to estimate the number of occupied bald eagle nesting 
territories in 2019 in the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific 
Flyway North EMUs.

[[Page 5495]]

    (2) Developed an integrated population model (IPM) to improve the 
precision of our estimates of demographic rates. IPMs integrate count 
data (our estimates of the number of occupied nesting territories) and 
data on survival rates and reproductive rates to produce more precise 
estimates of population size, survival, and fecundity than would 
otherwise be possible. These rates are used to estimate the take rate 
consistent with our management objective and to translate the estimate 
of the number of occupied nesting territories into a total population 
size estimate. IPMs also allow for the estimation of demographic 
parameters for which no explicit data are available in some cases. For 
bald eagles, one such parameter is the proportion of adults that breed, 
and we were able to obtain credible estimates of this parameter from 
our IPM. This change is important because it allowed us to account for 
adult ``floaters'' (i.e., adults not settled on a nesting territory) 
and thus accurately estimate the total number of adult bald eagles in 
the population. The IPM provided information on the proportion of the 
bald eagle population that was in each age class, and so knowing the 
number of adults allowed us to estimate numbers for the other age 
classes and thus total population size. In our 2016 eagle status 
assessment we independently modeled each relevant demographic rate, and 
thus did not take advantage of the ability to leverage the information 
that comes with IPMs.
    (3) We updated the bald eagle banding data used to estimate 
survival rates in the IPM to include band recoveries through 2018.
    (4) We updated our model for determining take rates and limits for 
bald eagles based on the new estimates of relevant demographic 
parameters from the IPM. We also added flexibility to the model to 
accommodate the type of density dependence that likely regulates bald 
eagle population size.
    Our 2019 estimate of bald eagle population size in the four EMUs is 
316,708. However, consistent with the Service's decision in the 2016 
PEIS, we use the 20th quantile of the probability distribution as the 
relevant value for management purposes, which is 273,327 bald eagles. 
Although some of the increase in the estimates of population size from 
2009 to 2019 can be attributed to improvements in methods, the majority 
of the increase is likely due to population growth, estimated to be 
around 10 percent per year. In the 2016 PEIS, we determined that a take 
rate of 0.06 was consistent with our management objective for bald 
eagles. Based on updated demographic information and using a more 
appropriate form of the take-limit model, we have updated our estimate 
of the appropriate take rate to 0.09. The changes in population size 
and the take rate result in an annual maximum take limit in the four 
EMUs of 15,832 bald eagles (see table below). Actual permitted bald 
eagle take was 490 in 2020, and the higher updated take limits will not 
in themselves lead to increased take.

                             Table--Former and New Bald Eagle Population Size and Take Limits by Bald Eagle Management Unit
                                                                  2009 Population size                        2019 Population size
                   Bald eagle management unit                        (20th quantile)       2009 Take limit       (20th quantile)       New take limits
Atlantic Flyway.................................................                20,387                 1,223                72,990                 4,223
Mississippi Flyway..............................................                27,334                 1,640               137,917                 7,986
Central Flyway..................................................                 1,163                    70                26,253                 1,521
Pacific Flyway North............................................                13,296                   798                36,302                 2,102
    Total.......................................................                62,180                 3,731               273,327                15,832

    Despite the improvements we made in our models and approach, we 
have not altered the analytical framework of the 2016 PEIS. 
Additionally, our update does not alter any of the policy decisions 
made in the PEIS, and there are no regulatory changes necessary to 
implement these new take limits. In the 2016 PEIS we specifically 
anticipated these kinds of periodic updates to the technical 
information underlying our analytical framework to account for changes 
in population size and demographic rates that might occur over time. 
Thus, these updates represent a recalibration of the take limits by 
applying the same concepts and policy decisions in the 2016 PEIS to 
updated information on the size and demographic rates of bald eagles in 
the relevant EMUs. Because this new information constitutes only a 
technical update of the scientific information in our 2016 PEIS, we 
have determined that the PEIS itself does not need to be updated or 
supplemented, nor are any regulatory changes required to implement the 
update. Consequently, these updated maximum allowable take limits are 
effective upon publication of this notice.

Martha Williams,
Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the 
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2022-02040 Filed 1-31-22; 8:45 am]