Can The Bald Eagles Survive?

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Great flocks of eagles now gather when the salmon spawn on streams in Alaska. And that’s a great comfort — considering how close we came to losing this marvelous national symbol.

But that’s not enough. We want to see them right here. We want to tilt our heads back.

We want that thrill of possibility, with every time we hike along the Verde or Salt or Gila.

So we’re disappointed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has once more petitioned the courts to strike the desert bald eagle population from the endangered species list.

The biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service had a whole, silly chorus of angels dancing atop the pinheads of the regulations to come to a legalistic conclusion without a spitball of common sense.

The logic goes something like this. Bald eagles nationwide aren’t endangered, now that we’ve limited the use of eggshell-thinning DDT. But the Endangered Species Act allows for separate protection for a threatened subpopulation — providing that population is discrete, occupies a significant gap in the range and is potentially endangered. Somehow, the wildlife bureaucrats termed “capricious” and “arbitrary” by a judge two years ago, have decided that the desert eagles are a “discrete” population — but not a “significant” one.

So the Fish and Wildlife Service has asked a federal judge to let it remove the desert bald eagles off the list because all the rest of those eagles won’t miss them when they’re gone.

Environmental groups have vowed they’ll sue. If the 50 nesting pairs of desert eagles lose habitat protection and federal funding for the Nestwatch program, they’ll most likely vanish, according to one recent estimate.

We hope the judge will reject the Fish and Wildlife Service’s narrow, legalistic logic. It would be an untrammeled tragedy if we lost the eagles that have adapted to the Sonoran Desert.

So we’re glad Alaska has its flocks. But that’s not enough. We want eagles here. Nesting on the shores of Woods Canyon Lake, down on Tonto Creek, maybe in cottonwoods along the East Verde.

We don’t care how many lawyers can dance on a pinhead — or how many pinheads can hire a lawyer.

We want our eagles.

More foolish cuts

The carnage continues. But even after a year of the state’s slow-motion budget fiasco, some of the woeful and shortsighted economies still manage to surprise us.

Case in point: Gov. Jan Brewer now wants to cut $3.5 million in state funding for classes that help people get a high school diploma by taking the GED.

The $3.5 million state cut will cost Arizona some $11 million in federal money. Gila County will lose out on a $77,000 grant, which this year will help about 200 people earn a high school diploma.

The program provides roughly $500 per student — a fraction of the $6,000 per student in state aid that goes to K-9 schools.

Estimates suggest that people with high school diplomas make $8,000 more each year than high school dropouts. More than two-thirds of the people who wind up in prison in this state never graduated high school.

Have we come down to this — short-sighted cuts that hurt us all in the long run? Would we really rather spend $20,000 a year locking someone up than $500 a year educating them?

Lawmakers will wring their hands and point in any convenient direction, to avoid the blame. And they’re right — to a point. State spending rose much too quickly in the good years, the downturn was worse than anyone expected, and lawmakers must make these terrible choices.

But the inexcusable delay in grappling with reality and the inability to strike reasonable compromises has made the problem far worse than necessary. We hope that lawmakers find a more rational approach than cutting this minimal help for people trying to better themselves.

And if they don’t, we hope that administrators at the Gila County adult education program will find some way to fill the gap. It may take some creative thinking .

Can we save the program by boosting fees? Can advocates raise money to provide scholarships?

Once more, the state seems ready to abdicate its responsibilities to its citizens in a spasm of alibis and finger pointing.

And once more, we’ll have to look to our own resources to prevent the intellectual and spiritual impoverishment of this, our beloved community.

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