Bald Eagles Soar Off Endangered Species List, But Will Act Be Weakened?

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When the population reached its recovery goal of 3,900 nesting pairs in 1999, then-President Bill Clinton proposed that the bald eagle be delisted. Today's announcement marks its official removal.

"That's something well worth celebrating," said Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs with the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife.

Despite the delisting, federal protection laws specifically for eagles and migratory birds will "still prohibit killing and harming eagles or their nests or eggs," the Audubon Society's Daulton noted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also modernizing language under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to make it relevant in today's world, according to Throckmorton.

"Originally it was written in 1940 and primarily it was a shooting statute," he said.

Dampened Celebration

The celebratory mood, however, is dampened in some quarters by a Supreme Court decision Monday that conservationists fear will curtail the reach of the Endangered Species Act.

Traditionally federal agencies must consider how projects such as dam building, forest logging, and subdivision construction will affect endangered species before issuing permits.

But in its recent 5-4 ruling, the court decided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can transfer permitting authority to state agencies without first considering the welfare of endangered species. The ruling specifically affects permits issued under the Clean Water Act.

"The full effect of this decision remains to be seen, but we are very concerned," said Irvin of Defenders of Wildlife, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.

The conservation advocacy group had sued EPA because the agency handed authority to the state of Arizona to issue permits under the Clean Water Act without endangered species consultations.

The Clean Water Act does not require such consultations before the EPA can transfer authority.

Irvin is concerned the Bush Administration will try to use the ruling to argue that other federal laws also trump the Endangered Species Act.

In a press statement, the National Association of Home Builders, a trade organization that represents developers, applauded the Supreme Court decision as maintaining balance when considering environmental regulations.

"We can't say that the Endangered Species Act is an 'uber-statute' that should slow down regulatory decisions," the builders association president Brian Catalde said.

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