Desert-nesting bald eagles sit in old-growth cottonwood near McKellips and Dobson.

Desert-Nesting Bald Eagles To Remain on Threatened-Species List For Now

By Jennifer Hernandez
Au-Authm Action News

According to Environmental Program Supervisor Dan Daggett with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Department, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) violated the Endangered Species Act when it delisted Arizona’s desert-nesting bald eagles.

Daggett said (the USFWS) also did not consult with the SRPMIC and the Apache tribes regarding that action.

As a result, a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society against USFWS. Although USFWS did not initially request information from tribes about the cultural significance of the birds, Daggett said they sent the information again after the lawsuit was filed.

There are currently 52 breading-pairs, which is 104 breading adults in the state of Arizona. The Community is home to three nests including Granite Reef, Orme and the Riverside Ruins nests. Daggett said there is a 4-year-old male from the Granite Reef nest still living on the Community.

USFWS Criteria
Daggett said, “They (the USFWS) have been trying to delist the (desert-nesting) bald eagles since 1999, and primarily it is because if they delist then essentially they did their job in bringing the species back from near extinction.”

One of the USFWS criteria for keeping a particular threatened species on the endangered list is a biological difference in taxonomy, or that a particular population of the species in a localized area, like the Sonoran Desert bald eagle, is different biologically from the bald eagle species elsewhere, and therefore the local population has significance.

“We are just saying the (Sonoran Desert) eagles are a discrete population segment and the USFWS needs to realize the birds here are biologically different from the eagles in the other 49 states,” he said. “They (USFWS) said they think the birds here are all the same.” The Center for Biological Diversity argued that this bird is smaller than the eagles in Alaska.” The USFWS agree with the assertion that the Sonoran Desert nesting bald eagles were a discrete population of bald eagles, but not that they were significant.

“Basically what they’re saying is that if every eagle in the Southwest and the Sonoran Desert region, it wouldn’t impact negatively against the (bald eagle population) in general throughout the United States,” Daggett said.
The September 13 court decision is forcing USFWS to issue a 12-month finding in order to revisit the delisting issue.

Sonoran Desert Nesting Bald Eagle Protection Act
If the desert-nesting bald eagle is ultimately removed from the Endangered Species List, Daggett said the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Sonoran Desert Nesting Bald Eagle Protection Act would still provide more protection than the Endangered Species Act because the laws are more stringent within the boundaries of the Community.

“If you disturb an eagle on the Community there is a $5,000 fine for each instance,” he said. “People do not disturb the birds maliciously, but they don’t understand what happens when they intrude on the eagle’s space.”

Daggett said either the male or female eagle will sit on the eggs at all times. The birds are grasping the eggs and as they sit on them, and when someone comes too close, the birds get startled and fly off. They just drop the eggs and they either hit together and break or fall out of the nest.

Taking Care of Eaglets
The eagle population on the Community is regularly monitored. Daggett said once the eaglets hatch, they remain in the nest for 6 to 8 weeks. During this time, Daggett and his staff not only monitor the nests cameras donated from Saddleback Communications, but they also travel to the nests to conduct proper identification of the birds.

“We have someone climb the tree and remove the eaglets from the nest,” he said. “Then we fit their heads with eye coverings and their talons with booties for protection. Their beaks are measured- and the birds are weighed and fit with tracking bands from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and SRPMIC Environmental Protection and Natural Resources.”

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