Judge delays decision on protection for Arizona’s bald eagles

Phoenix, Arizona (AP) 2-08

A federal judge has postponed a decision about protections for Arizona’s desert-nesting bald eagles.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Murguia still needs to decide if U.S. officials acted too hastily in removing Arizona’s smaller, lighter bald eagles from the federal endangered-species list.

They were removed from endangered-species protections in August along with the nation’s 11,000 other bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

The action to include Arizona eagles was protested by Gov. Janet Napolitano, U.S. Reps. Harry Mitchell and Raul Grijalva along with conservation groups and Indian tribes.

An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon, the groups that filed the lawsuit, asked for the Arizona birds be put back on the endangered-species list – at least until their status can be reviewed by wildlife officials.

Lawyers for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Yavapai-Apache Nation and Tonto Apache Tribe argued that Arizona’s bald eagles are more fragile than government authorities say.

Dan Rohlf, a lawyer for the environmentalists, charged that federal authorities did not follow protocol and ignored key evidence in deciding against a 2004 petition to have the Arizona’s eagles designated as a distinct population that makes a unique contribution to the survival of the species.

The Endangered Species Act protects distinct populations.

An estimated 45 eagle pairs are breeding in Arizona this winter, monitored by the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee.