Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Regulations Allow Incidental Killings of Eagles

Golden Eagle / Photo by George Gentry (USFWS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is issuing a new rule to regulate killing or disturbance of Bald and Golden Eagles in the course of legal activities. The agency explains its decision as follows:
When the bald eagle was listed under the Endangered Species Act, a permit was available to take eagles incidental to an otherwise lawful activity. But when the eagle was removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 2007, there were no provisions for issuing permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act for activities that could disturb or otherwise incidentally take either species of eagle. The growing population of bald eagles, in particular, could significantly curtail legal human activities if such permits were not available. ...

The first new permit type may be issued only where the “take” – in this case referring to the disturbing, or harming of eagles – is associated with, but not the purpose of an activity, such as commercial or residential real estate development.

The second new type of permit governs removal of bald or golden eagle nests under limited circumstances, including removal of nests that create safety concerns on or near airports. Deliberate killing of eagles will not be allowed under either of these new permits.
The full text of the final rule is available here (pdf), and it will take effect in November. The full text explains the reasoning behind the rule and the conditions for permits in more detail.

If this simply replaces a permitting process that existed under the Endangered Species Act, then I do not see a cause for alarm in the new regulations. However, it all depends on how the rules are implemented and enforced. As we have seen in recent years, regulatory decisions can be subject to heavy political pressure, even though in an ideal world they would be based on evidence. I would hope that this would not be the case with the eagle permits.