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Bald eagles can go it alone, lawsuit says
Sacramento Bee


November 04, 2005

A conservative legal foundation is questioning whether one of America's most beloved national symbols - the bald eagle - still deserves the special protection that some environmentalists, scientists and government regulators credit for reviving the treasured bird.

In a lawsuit filed this week in Minnesota federal court, the Pacific Legal Foundation is seeking to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final decision on whether to remove the bird from the endangered species list.

The suit comes more than six years after President Clinton announced that the bald eagle would leave the endangered species list by 2000.

The Pacific Legal Foundation - a staunch advocate of private property rights - contends the agency's failure to decide on the eagle's status is encroaching on the rights of landowners. Foundation attorneys are representing a Minnesota man who is barred from building on his rural acreage where there is an active bald eagle's nest.

"The government has put out press releases and declared (the eagle's) recovery a success story, but they've done nothing official to follow through on whether the bird should be removed from the list," said Damien Schiff, a foundation attorney who is representing property owner Edmund Contoski.

The bald eagle - which Congress adopted in 1782 as the national emblem - had all but disappeared by the early 1960s as a result of hunting, loss of habitat and the widespread use of the toxic pesticide DDT. Now, there are more than 6,500 breeding pairs of the birds, fish and wildlife officials say.

Though Clinton announced plans in 1999 to "delist" the bald eagle, the bird has remained protected under the Endangered Species Act as Fish and Wildlife Service officials figure out how to monitor and preserve the population once its protective status is removed.

One holdup, said a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, is figuring out how other federal statutes that offer protections to birds and their habitats would extend to the bald eagle.

"The bald eagle really is one of the more unique species that we have to deal with on the list," said Chris Tollefson. "The real impetus behind the amount of time that we've taken on this is to work out how the bird would be managed under the other statutes ... that has proven to be more complex than we initially believed."

Whether the suit over the bald eagle will speed up the agency's review process remains to be seen, but one bald eagle expert said the answer is clear.

"It should be taken off the list," said Brian Walton, coordinator of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "This species has had a rapidly increasing population throughout the United States for years."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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