Federal Judge Dissolves Injunction Protecting Arizona Eagles

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A federal judge has rejected pleas from environmentalists and the Tonto Apache Tribe, and will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pull desert-nesting bald eagles from the Endangered Species List.

Judge Mary Murguia ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had this time followed its own procedures correctly and so she lifted the injunction imposed more than a year ago after calling the previous delisting procedure “arbitrary and capricious.”

On Monday, the Centers for Biological Diversity appealed the judge’s latest ruling.

The Fish and Wildlife Service declined comment on Monday, saying officials there needed to study Murguia’s order more closely before commenting.

Robin Silver, founder of the Centers for Biological Diversity, said Fish and Wildlife Service administrators had once again overruled the findings of field biologists that the desert eagles constituted a distinct, endangered sub-population that occupied a crucial chunk of the range of the species nationally.

Some 104 bald eagles nested in Arizona this year and produced 44 offspring that lived long enough to leave the nest. The desert eagles nest only in Arizona and don’t apparently interbreed with eagles migrating through the region. The nesting population has increased four-fold in 20 years, but biologists say the population is still small enough to face a real danger of extinction locally.

Murguia ruled on relatively narrow, procedural grounds and also included in her ruling a requirement that any future lawsuits about the eagle’s status will go through her.

The ruling capped a sequence of lawsuits in a five-year drama, fraught with politically charged allegations that the federal agency had played politics with the fate of the desert eagles.

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