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Comments by Gary Siftar on Bald Eagle Take Permits

as sent the the US Fish and Wildlife Service on July 21, 2007


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 interested party.

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 or disturb”.  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.

After 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.

Not 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.

Siftar comments:

  • IMHO, 60-80 single (lower 48) bald eagles (or bald eagle nests) per year would seem a reasonable “Take”.

  • The 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 reduced.

  • 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.

  • A second year or third year eagle (not yet mated) could have a multiplier of 1.0x

  • 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)

  • No 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.

  • Shoreline 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 likely.

  • 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.

  • No 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 the responder

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 populations.

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. 

At 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.

The 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 be supported. 

Linear Projection of population impacts with allowed
2.5% and 5% individual “takes” (from both Golden and Bald)
based on current published FWS data

  Click here or on chart for full resolution view

I 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.

The 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.

Gary Siftar
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
e-mail:
gsiftar@okraptors.com

 

 

 

 

 

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