Image credit: Carl Chapman/Flickr
48 breeding pairs of bald eagle survive along the rivers of the otherwise hot and dry Sonoran Desert. Currently, this small group of eagles is listed on the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife but, if a new petition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is approved, they would lose that protectionIt is not the first time the department has motioned to eliminate endangered-species protections from the desert-nesting eagles. The agency has been fighting conservationists in court over the issue since as early as 2006 and, in 2007, a judge threw out their motion to strip the desert eagles of their endangered species protections.
Though the bald eagle as a species was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, unique populations, like the desert nesting eagles, remained due to their status as a "distinct population segment." The new decision from the Fish and Wildlife Service claims:
We conclude that the best information available does not indicate that persistence in the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert Area is important to the species as a whole.
Image credit: brendan.lally./Flickr
It's a position that researchers disagree with. Dr. Robin Silver, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, commented that:
If the decision stands, it will be a death sentence for our desert nesting bald eagles...we're anxious to get back into court to save these magnificent birds.
The fragile population experiences a high mortality rate for both adult and juvenile birds, the Center for Biological Diversity reports, and is threatened in several ways—most notably by the efforts of nearby Prescott, Arizona, to remove water from the Upper Verde River.
The population is reproductively, geographically, biologically, and behaviorally distinct from all other bald eagle populations, since no other bald eagle population occupies habitat so hot and dry...no other population of bald eagles will move in if this population disappears, and that will result in a significant gap in the overall bald-eagle range.
Currently, the desert eagle population is dependent on the efforts of on-the-ground conservationists. Without the mandatory endangered-species funding, this work would be forced to end and the outlook for the Sonoran Desert's bald eagles would become very grim.