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Federal agency changes rules on accidental eagle deaths

Rachel Kramer
User: Flickr
The new rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revises the permit process for accidental deaths of golden and bald eagles.

Bald eagles came off the endangered species list in 2007 because they were doing so well. These days you can see more bald eagles than in any time in the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency has just finalized a new ruleabout bald and golden eagles, which revises the permitting system for unintentional impacts on eagles.

Brian Millsap is the National Raptor Coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says "unintentional impacts" are human actions that cause injury or disturbance to eagles, or accidental death.

“For example, power lines which bring us power to our houses also can electrocute eagles. That’s unintentional. The electric companies don’t intend for that to happen, but it happens,” he says.

He says the Eagle Act prohibits even unintentional harm to eagles. So, for example, without these rules, any company whose power line or wind turbine accidentally harmed an eagle was technically breaking the law.

“These regulations allow those companies to obtain a permit and operate legally, even though they might take an eagle. The conditions under which they can get those permits are that they have to implement all practical avoidance and minimization measures,” he says.

Millsap says the agency has been doing research to make sure that these new permits don’t add any stress to existing eagle populations.

“We’ve used that in state-of-the-art models that allow us to estimate what proportion of additional mortalities each species might be able to sustain and still meet our objective, which is that the populations minimally, are stable, and ideally, are able to grow,” he says.

He says the agency also has legal avenues for anyone who ignores the law.

"Our office of law enforcement has made enforcement of illegal eagle take a high priority," he says. "We've made a number of cases over the last couple of years, with wind companies and with utility companies that have steadfastly refused to pay attention to the Eagle Act requirements."

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.