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State mulls change in status for bald eagles

Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks public comment on proposed protection rules

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public comment on proposed changes in the state's listing status and protection rules for bald eagles.

A public review period for the draft bald eagle status report and proposed state bald eagle rule revisions began June 1 and runs through Sept.1.

The bald eagle is federally protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) maintains a list of threatened, endangered and sensitive species separate from the list maintained by the federal government.

The proposed federal de-listing of the birds prompted a state review of the eagle's listing status. WDFW biologists concluded from that review the eagles listing status could be reduced, provided habitat protection rules remain in effect on private land.

Under the proposed changes, the state classification for bald eagles would be decreased from "threatened" to "sensitive" status, and the bald eagle protection rule would be revised to apply to the eagle as a sensitive species. A state sensitive species is defined as a native species that is vulnerable or declining and likely to become threatened or endangered without cooperative management.

"The changes in listing status and protection rules would mean eagle nests and roost sites would still be protected," said Derek Stinson, WDFW wildlife biologist. "The proposed state status change follows plans the federal government has announced to remove the eagle from the federal list of endangered and threatened species later this year."

WDFW biologists estimate that bald eagles numbered some 6,500 birds in Washington when settlers first arrived. By 1980, eagle numbers had dwindled to 105 nesting pairs due to a combination of factors, including illegal killing, the cutting of shoreline forests, commercial exploitation of salmon runs and use of the pesticide DDT.

Since then, a ban on the use of DDT and increased protection of eagles and their habitat by state and federal agencies has resulted in substantial bald eagle recovery. In 1998, WDFW documented 664 occupied nests statewide.

Although the eagle population has increased substantially in the last 20 years, two-thirds of Washington eagle nests are on private lands.

Land near shorelines is highly desirable for growing residential development, putting pressure on areas where eagles are likely to nest. Only about 10 percent of bald eagle nests are on sites that could be considered secure in the absence of habitat protection rules.

The state bald eagle protection rule currently requires a management plan for development, forest practices or potentially disturbing activities on state and private lands near eagle nests and roosts.

Copies of the bald eagle status report are available at public libraries, WDFW headquarters in Olympia, WDFW regional offices and on the WDFW website.

Public meetings will be held on the proposed state listing changes later this year. Written comments on the report and rule revision may be mailed to Harriet Allen, Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N, Olympia WA 98501-1091.

After the public comment period, WDFW will prepare the final status report and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) documents, which will be available for public review.

Pending de-listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, final recommendations on eagle protection changes will be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at its meeting in December.


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