Response re: Bald Eagle Take permit revisions
Response to UWFWS by Gary Siftar
reprinted with permission of Gary Siftar
Please accept my comments not as any criticism, just as thoughts from an
The title is RN
1018-AV11 "Authorizations Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
for Take of Eagles". Given this, for the purposes of my response I used
the BAGPA definition: “pursue,
shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, or molest
Because of this definition, it was not clear to me if your proposed rule
was regarding permits to Kill and capture as opposed to disturb by
taking nests, or causing nest abandonment. I have no hard data on the
population impact of taking a nest, however I have watched nests that
fall, or fail, and I firmly believe that if you take a nest it should be
treated at least as severely as killing a single eagle between 1-4 years
of age. There is no real practical difference in a failed breeding
cycle, and killing. If you subtract an eagle because of no nest, or take
one by killing you are still down an eagle.
a lost nest it’s common for the next season’s nesting to be
non-productive. If you haven’t,
I strongly suggest consulting with
experts in the field before establishing numbers.
Alan Jenkins with the Sutton Avian Research center, does aerial annual
nest counts in Oklahoma.
having sufficient data to model, I just extrapolated the current trend
as if no outside forces changed anything. I know this will not be the
case, however it still has some value for discussion. Further there was
no mention of the boundaries for the proposed nine regions being
considered, nor do I have any idea from which regions there will be
“takes”, nor the type or quantity of “takes”. This lack of data not
withstanding, here are some bullet points to consider.
IMHO, 60-80 single (lower 48) bald eagles (or bald eagle nests) per year
would seem a reasonable “Take”.
246 new permit take quantity provided in the proposed rule should be a
maximum and used only if the “take” proposal considers equal “take” from
the Golden population, and each region (including Alaska’s) population
is considered, and no single region looses over 2.5% (from total eagle
count, not pairs) annually. If Alaska doesn’t satisfy half the “take”
permits, then I suggest the 246 number needs to be significantly
Since Eagles breed for life, it’s uncertain, to me, the impact of taking
a single adult eagle from a breeding pair. I am aware of the
observations and studies on this subject. The surviving eagle however
may be genetically dead, for some period, or perhaps forever. If a
female is taken, the male might end up in a fight with another male, and
perhaps one would die, or both injured severely, or even both might die.
Pick a number, perhaps a 1.6x – 1.8x multiplier taking a single bird
from a breeding pair. The number is not likely to be 1.0 however. It
is, with reasonable certainty, possible to determine breeding age with
Bald eagles, as it is to determine a first or second year bird.
Likewise if deliberately taking (Hopi) the third chick (last hatched)
from a clutch the take multiplier should be perhaps .6 given the third
chick seldom survives, and the second chick perhaps should have a .8x
multiplier as it would have no more than a 60% chance of surviving the
first 12 months.
second year or third year eagle (not yet mated) could have a multiplier
Perhaps Native American tribes could, upon specific request, be
considered their own management region to include their own reservation
only. Under AIRFA, they could manage their own population.
Prioritize “take” permits with permanent projects that cause repetitive
takes to get lowest priority. (e.g. Wind turbine farms typically would
be repetitive takes)
significant improvements appear to planned by FWS or others to reduce
negative impacts / hazards (human population, vehicles, power lines,
communication towers, wind turbines. loss of habitat or food). The
de-listing by itself will reduce chances of additional legislation for
things like coating lead fishing sinkers, or changing their composition
to something other than lead.
Existing habitat, range and food will support additional population
increases, but it is not obvious that it would support more than a five
fold increase, at the same rate, or perhaps at all. This would cause a
plateau, at an unknown point.
Personally I don’t know what percentage of the eagles population
increase since the 1972 DDT ban was caused by the ban, or the T & E
listing in 1973. I speculate it was primarily the DDT ban.
Certainly the BAGEPA (by itself) in 1940 didn’t increase population
significantly, it likely just stopped the decline.
Development is a serious issue, and given recent court rulings favoring
landowners and developers this is a major concern. The forth amendment
protection against property seizures and eagle habitat, shoreline, nest
sights etc. are in conflict.
It’s hard to comment on the nine regions planned as they weren’t defined
in RIN 1018-AV11. It obviously is a good idea to issue “take” permits in
relationship to the population within a specific region, to avoid a
regional decline. Just looking at the seven actual FWS regions it
becomes obvious that any additional large “Take” within region two would
have a dramatically negative impact.
Relocating a nest would seldom be practical, as they are typically high,
fragile, hard to access, heavy etc. However constructing a new
replacement nest would be practical. Providing some acceptable man-made
replacement nest examples might help. This might be an area where
specialized contractors could help the inexperienced.
Strict reporting of ALL deaths, and other takes needs to be enforced. To
properly model, we need a complete and accurate picture.
Severely limit, or abolish legal “take” to concerns that exhibit
“Reckless Disregard” for the eagle, and issue permits primarily for
Unavoidable and incidental “Take” activities, where mitigation is
you have a $100 million project, the “take” permit will just become a
small line item number on the budget, on page 67. It will just become a
routine cost of doing business. They will trivialize the eagle deaths.
take permits should be issued that measurably impact eagles in tribal
reservations without official tribal consultation to any impacted tribe.
Eagles are sacred to all Native American tribes, and for the US
Government to authorize a taking of a religious icon, without tribal
approval may step on tribal sovereignty, religious freedoms, etc.
Data considered by
To model the
impact of a specific number of eagles, you must have measured and
validated regional models for habitat requirements, including available
forage and presence of roosting and nesting trees. Also important would
be population density, territorial range, average life span, and
regional averages for clutch size and survival rates, as well as
re-nesting rates. The consideration of migration paths, as well as the
time of year the “take” is approved, is also necessary data. There is a
real difference between migrating northern and non-migrating southern
bald eagles, because in some areas, they are separate but overlapping
Although there is a
reasonably good GIS database of known nesting pairs, many unknowns
remain. There are regional and even local differences in natural
equilibrium. Alaska cannot be treated the same as Arizona. From a
species-survival standpoint, assessment of regional populations appears
to be good science. Even with regional management taxpayers (read
voters) in one state may not appreciate declines in their eagle
population, even though an adjacent state eagle population increases by
an equivalent amount.
this time, without additional data, it is impractical for me to
construct and validate an extensive model for variances based on the
specific impact of particular “take” permits. Given the complexity of
formulating and validating a regional model – and the current lack of
comprehensive, validated data, I strongly recommend a “Go slow and
measure carefully” approach.
onetime taking of a nest or a single eagle is an entirely different
issue than the “forever” taking of habitat. A single take permit is also
considerably different than erecting/constructing something that will
repeatedly and continually cause eagle mortality (e.g. wind-turbine
farms, power grid structures, and so forth) for perpetuity.
Until appropriate measuring and modeling are put into place, it is
critical to carefully understand and plan what initial take numbers can
Linear Projection of population impacts with allowed
2.5% and 5%
(from both Golden and Bald)
based on current published FWS data
Click here or on chart for full resolution view
am not implying that the above graph in any way represents the future
population of Bald Eagles. It illustrates only one possible result when
postulating two specific percentages of annual “take” permits (2.5% and
5%). It may be just as likely that the population in 2100 is only half
of the perhaps optimistic estimate of 26,000, and the additional annual
“take” of 220 birds may be all the population can support for parity.
point is that it may “take” an extended period of time to develop
accurate, verifiable models to quantify the all-important regional and
local components. Taking the conservative “go-slow and measure” approach
is preferable to re-listing in 3-5 years.
Once reoccurring or perpetual “take” permits are issued
for tall objects (towers), wind turbine farms or when habitat
destruction has occurred it will be virtually impossible to remedy and
the courts will get involved, and cases may unfortunately be won or lost
based on money and politics, and not what is best for the eagle.
Nothing good will come of this, and the Eagle will pay for our mistakes.
Also, I believe FWS
should favor one-time “take” permits, instead of things that will
literally “take” each year from now on. Habitat loss is forever. Wind
turbines are forever. You can assume any construction project will be
there forever. Cutting down cotton wood trees near the river or lake
will essentially be a “take” of habitat/nesting site forever. Build a
boat ramp, a restaurant, or store on the shore and the eagles loose a
nesting site forever. If a railroad crew is replacing ties during
nesting season, they can wait until after nesting season for an active
nest, and routine maintenance. If lives are at danger, and they get FWS
to come out to make a determination, then they should be able to apply
for a one-time “take”.
If you have a $100 million project, the “take”
permit will just become a small line item number on the budget, on page
67. It will just become a routine cost of doing business.
They will trivialize the eagle deaths.