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Environment | Law
Arizona tribes win ruling in eagle listing case


Five Arizona tribes who hold the bald eagle sacred won a court ruling on Monday that puts the bird back on the endangered species list.

The Bush administration hailed the removal of the eagle from the list as an environmental success. "Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in June 2007.

But tribes and conservation groups said the decision was made without proper consultation and was based on poor science. They said that populations of the desert-nesting bald eagle in Arizona remained threatened.

In a 25-page decision, Judge Mary Murguia agreed. She said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consult tribes about the "arbitrary and capricious" decision.

FWS officials were given "marching orders" to remove the eagle from the list without fully addressing the Arizona issues, Murguia wrote. "These facts cause the court to have no confidence in the objectivity of the agency's decision making process," the ruling stated.

Had the agency properly considered the status of the desert-nesting bald eagle, tribes would have "provided the FWS additional information regarding the desert eagle and its importance to the Arizona Indian community that the FWS did not consider," Marguia noted. She accepted briefs from the tribes that contain more data and analysis about the sacred bird.

"The desert eagle has been a part of the Nation's traditions, religion, and history through time immemorial," the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation wrote in its brief. "Thus, the significance of the desert eagle and its habitat, along with the sacred place they occupy within the Yavapai culture, cannot be over-emphasized."

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Tonto Apache Tribe, the and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community also joined the case, which was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon. The tribes threatened a lawsuit in May 2007, when they walked out of a meeting with FWS officials, whom they felt had already made a decision on the matter.

Murguia's ruling doesn't affect the status of other bald eagle populations in the U.S. She said she is only preserving the "status quo" so FWS can properly consider the Arizona issues.

"This court victory has given Arizona's desert nesting bald eagle a stay of execution. We now have additional time to make protection for our bald eagle and its habitat permanent," said Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon.

Relevant Documents:
Court Decision | Briefs and More

Relevant Links:
Division of Bald Eagle Management - http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/baldeagle.htm
National Eagle Repository - http://www.r6.fws.gov/law/le65.html

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Arizona tribes support eagle preservation lawsuit (2/1)
DOI removes bald eagle from endangered list (6/29)
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Arizona tribes threaten suit over eagle delisting (5/11)