The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is reviewing the status of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in preparation of a proposal to either reclassify or delist the species. Since 1978 when the species was listed throughout its range in the conterminous States, the bald eagle has increased in several important population parameters including the number of nesting pairs and production of young. The Service has approved five regional recovery plans for the bald eagle that collectively encompass the entire conterminous 48 States. The current population data indicate that the bald eagle has met the goals for reclassification from endangered to threatened in four of these five recovery plans. The Service is currently reviewing past and present bald eagle population survey data and other information to ascertain what listing action may be appropriate for the species. The Service seeks data and comments from the public on this notice and is requesting information on environmental and other impacts that would result from a proposal to either reclassify, downlist, or delist all or specific populations of the bald eagle.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Advance Notice of a Proposal To
Reclassify or Delist the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Wednesday, February 7, 1990
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Advance notice of a proposed rule.
SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is reviewing the status of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in preparation of a proposal to either reclassify or delist the species. Since 1978 when the species was listed throughout its range in the conterminous States, the bald eagle has increased in several important population parameters including the number of nesting pairs and production of young. The Service has approved five regional recovery plans for the bald eagle that collectively encompass the entire conterminous 48 States. The current population data indicate that the bald eagle has met the goals for reclassification from endangered to threatened in four of these five recovery plans. The Service is currently reviewing past and present bald eagle population survey data and other information to ascertain what listing action may be appropriate for the species. The Service seeks data and comments from the public on this notice and is requesting information on environmental and other impacts that would result from a proposal to either reclassify, downlist, or delist all or specific populations of the bald eagle.
DATES: Comments from all interested parties must be received by March 30, 1990.
ADDRESSES: Comments and materials concerning this notice should be sent to the Endangered Species Coordinator, Fish and Wildlife Enhancement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Building, Fort Snelling, Twin Cities Minnesota 55111. Comments and materials received will be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:Daniel L. James, Wildlife biologist, at the above address (612/725- 3276 or FTS 725-3276).
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has an overall range encompassing Canada, Alaska, northern Mexico, and the 48 conterminous States of the United States. Historical estimates of the number of bald eagles occupying the lower 48 States are unavailable, however, the species was flourishing in 1782 when it became the national symbol. Westward expansion of civilization in this country and the resultant land we changes contributed to an early decline in bald eagle numbers. This decline in the population was exacerbated by indiscriminate shooting encouraged by the bounty many States paid for eagle carcasses. Nevertheless, bald eagle populations in the conterminous States were relatively secure through the early decades of the twentieth century.
A precipitous population decline following widespread application of the organochlorine insecticide DDT (dichloro dphenyl trichloroethane) from the 1940s through 1972, led the Service to list the bald eagle as endangered in 1967 (March 11; 32 FR 4001). This listing was made under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 (Preservation Act). At the time of this listing, two subspecies of the bald eagle were recognized by the scientific community; the northern bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus) and the southern bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus). The 1967 listing included only the southern subspecies, defined by the Service to be those eagles found south of 40 degrees North Latitude. The Preservation Act did not include a threatened category, and it did not provide for the opportunity to list a population within a species or subspecies' range. The northern bald eagle was not listed in 1967 primarily because the Alaskan and the central and western Canadian populations of that subspecies were not considered endangered
In 1973 the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (Act) was passed into law. The Act provided for a new threatened category of endangerment and the listing of distinct populations of vertebrate species. A bald eagle survey conducted by the Service in 1974 revealed that in parts of the norther half of the 48 conterminous States, bald eagle populations were in worse condition than within certain areas south of 40 degrees N. Consequently, the Service published a second bald eagle rulemaking (February 14, 1978; 43 FR 6233) under the authorities granted by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This rulemaking listed the species Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle) as endangered throughout the 48 conterminous States, except in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where it was listed as threatened. It was recognized by the Service that the populations in these five States did not meet the criteria for endangered, as defined in section 3(6) of the Act.
The use of DDT is generally believed to have had the most deleterious impact to bald eagle populations in the conterminous States. Specifically, DDE, a major metabolite of DDT, accumulates in the fatty tissue of adult bald eagles inducing eggshell thinning and reproductive impairment. Other factors that contributed to the species' decline included: habitat loss and/or conversion to uses incompatible with continued use by bald eagles, shooting, trauma (accidents, etc.), poisoning, electrocution, and other general causes of mortality. On January 1, 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT in the United States. This date is noteworthy as it marks the end of an era that was catastrophic for bald eagles and other species sensitive to the effects of DDT, including the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and brown pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis). The ban on the use of DDT is generally recognized as pivotal in the struggle to save the bald eagle from extinction. However, as the nation's symbol and a "flagship" species for the endangered species program, the bald eagle has benefited from a level of protection and conservation effort perhaps without parallel for a single species in the United States.
The Service has committed considerable resources to the recovery of the bald eagle, specifically in the categories of land acquisition/protection, research, public education, law enforcement, and management. These efforts have contributed to the slow but steady recovery of bald eagles. Placement of the bald eagle on the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants ensured that the species would benefit from the protective provisions of the Act. This further contributed to the improvement of bald eagle populations.
Among the more substantive of the Act's protective provisions are sections 7 and 4. Section 7(a)(1) of the Act directs all Federal agencies to "* * * utilize their authorities . . . for the conservation of endangered species and threatened species. . . ." Section 7(a)(2) directs each Federal agency to ". . . insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species. . . ." Section 4(g) of the Act provides for the development and implementation of recovery plans for listed species. The implementation of many of the recovery tasks identified in the Service's five bald eagle recovery plans has significantly improved the status of the species. These tasks have been funded and/or carried out by numerous Federal and State agencies, academic institutions, and private organizations and individuals. The cumulative effect of all these efforts has been a progressive increase in the population of bald eagles in the conterminous States.
Early surveys to count the number of bald eagles were inexact and, at best, rough estimates. When comparing the number of eagles known from previous years with more recent data, it should be recognized that increases in eagle numbers reflect an improvement in survey technique and expansion of search effort as well as an absolute increase in population levels. A further complication arises from the fact that the various organizations and individuals collecting the data have used terminology with varying definitions in reporting their findings. The result is that the findings from different years are not always directly comparable. Nevertheless, it is instructive to review the results of past surveys in relation to those conducted in more recent years to gain a perspective on the improvement in the status of the bald eagle nationwide.
In 1963, a National Audubon Society survey of the 48 conterminous States identified 417 active nests that produced a ratio of 0.59 young per nest. The Service's bald eagle survey conducted in 1974 accounted for 791 active nests yielding a ratio of 0.78 young per nest. In 1981, the Bureau of Land Management conducted a status and distribution survey of bald eagles for the conterminous States that reported 1,428 occupied breeding areas (1,188 with pairs) producing 1.04 young per occupied area. By 1986 a total of 1,875 nesting pairs in the conterminous States was reported to the Service, producing in excess of 1.0 young per occupied territory. Whereas the results of the 1989 breeding season are not yet fully reported, the Service can nevertheless account for a minimum of 2,660 occupied bald eagle breeding territories in the lower 48 States, with reproduction of approximately 1.0 young per active territory nationwide.
Four of the five bald eagle recovery plans have incorporated, as part of the recovery goals, a criteria for reproducing pairs of approximately 1.0 young per active pair. The ratio is calculated by taking into consideration the reproductive results for all pairs of eagles in the population that attempted to nest, including unsuccessful attempts. The 1.0 figure is significant as it is indicative of a population that is stable or increasing. A summary of the goals and objectives for recovery for each of the Service's five bald eagle recovery plans follows:
Pacific--Recovery Goal--800 occupied nesting territories, average productivity of 1.0 young per occupied territory, with an average breeding success rate per occupied site of not less than 65 percent, with 80 percent of the 47 recovery zones identified in the plan meeting population goals. Threatened Goal--an annual increase in the number of nesting pairs from 1985-1990.
Southwestern--Recovery Goal--none identified. Threatened Goal--population expansion into one or more drainages in addition to the Salt and Verde River (Arizona) systems, productivity of 10 to 12 young per year over a five year period.
Northern States--Recovery Goal--1200 occupied breeding territories distributed over a minimum of 16 States, average productivity of 1.0 young per occupied territory. Threatened Goal--none identified.
Chesapeake Bay--Recovery Goal--none identified. Threatened Goal--175 to 250 occupied breeding territories, average productivity of 1.1 young per occupied territory.
Southeastern States--Recovery Goal--600 occupied breeding territories, 9 of 12 States in the region meeting individual State goals, average productivity of 0.9 young per occupied territory, with 50 percent of nests successful in raising one or more young. These criteria must be met or exceeded for five consecutive years. Threatened Goal--the above criteria must be met or exceeded over a three year average.
The Service believes that the available population data provide a convincing argument for reclassifying the bald eagle. Bald eagle populations have met or exceeded the recovery plan goals for reclassification to threatened in each of the five recovery regions with the exception of the Southeast. In 1989 the number of known occupied nesting territories in the Southeast was 583, approximately the plan goal of 600 for the region. However, a distributional component by State for nesting pairs in the region is still lacking. Although the Northern States Recovery Plan identifies only delisting (recovery) criteria, the Service believes that downlisting to threatened in the Northern States is justified. The bald eagle has met the recovery goal for the ratio of young produced per territory and, through the 1988 breeding season, achieved 84 percent of the number of occupied nesting territories identified for delisting in the Northern States region.
The regulations the Service must follow in proceeding with reclassification or delisting are codified in 50 CFR 424.11. Reclassification of a species is based on the best scientific and commercial data available after conducting a review of the species' status. The species is determined by the Service to be endangered or threatened because of any one or a combination of the following factors;
(1) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
(2) Over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
(3) Disease or predation;
(4) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
(5) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
Delisting a species must also be supported by the best scientific and commercial data available that substantiate that is is neither endangered or threatened for one or more or the following reasons:
(2) Recovery, or
(3) Original data for classification of the species is in error.
The Service has decided to await the results of the 1990 bald eagle breeding season prior to reaching a final decision on any rulemkaing to reclassify the bald eagle. This will provide an additional year to monitor the recovery progress of all listed populations, including the progress of specific populations in regions of the country where recovery goals for reclassification have not yet been met, or only marginally so.
Should one or more endangered populations of the bald eagle be reclassified to threatened, those populations would continue to benefit from protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, some differences do exist with regard to the Act's treatment of endangered as opposed to threatened species. The term "endangered species" is defined in the Act to mean any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, while a "threatened species" is defined as one that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future. Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires each Federal agency to insure that its actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or threatened species. A threatened species would be expected to have more of a "resource cushion" than an endangered species. As such, a threatened species would likely be able to withstand greater impacts from agency actions before the threshold of jeopardy to the continued existence of the species is reached.
Implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22, 17.32) governing the issuance of permits under section 10 of the Act provide greater management flexibility for threatened as opposed to endangered species. In addition to permits for endangered species that may be issued for scientific purposes, enhancement of propagation or survival, or for incidental take, permits for threatened species may also be issued for economic hardship, zoological exhibition, educational purposes, or special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. The civil and criminal penalties (section 11) for violating the Act are greater for endangered than for threatened species.
Should one or more populations of the bald eagle be delisted as a result of this exercise or in the future, the Endangered Species Act would continue to afford a measure of protection for the species following delisting. Section 4 of the Act was amended in 1988, directing the Secretary (Service) to implement a system to monitor recovered species for not less than five years. When monitoring shows that protection is needed to prevent a significant risk to a species, the Service is to utilize the Act's existing emergency listing authority.
Regardless of any future changes in the status of bald eagle populations under the Endangered Species Act, the species will continue to benefit from protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and certain regulations issued thereunder (16 U.S.C. 668-668d, 703-712; 50 CFR 10.13, 21.2, 21.22, part 22). In addition, many States have passed endangered and threatened species statutes to provide protection to species of special concern in the State. The bald eagle is listed and protected under many of these State statutes, and the States may choose to maintain the eagle on their State protected lists even if it is delisted and removed from Federal Endangered Species Act protection.
Public Comments Solicited
The Service intends that the forthcoming proposal be as complete and accurate as possible. Therefore, comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party concerning this notice are hereby solicited. Comments particularly are sought concerning:
(1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threat (or lack thereof) to this species;
(2) The location of any additional populations of this species;
(3) Additional information concerning the past and present range, distribution, and population size of this species; and
(4) Current or planned activities within the conterminous States that might have possible long-term impacts on this species. The forthcoming proposal on the bald eagle will take into consideration these comments and any additional information received by the Service.
A complete list of all references is available upon request from the Service's North Central Regional Office, Twin Cities, Minnesota (see ADDRESS above).
The primary author of this notice is Daniel L. James (see ADDRESSES above).
List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17
Endangered and threatened species, Fish, Marine mammals, Plants (agriculture).
The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).
Dated: January 31, 1990.
Richard N. Smith,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 90-2765 Filed 2-6-90; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-M
55 FR 4209-01, 1990 WL 352377 (F.R.)