The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems bound and determined to minimize protections for Arizona’s growing — but still fragile — population of bald eagles.
What a strange spectacle. What a sad waste.
Repeatedly, judges have overturned the federal agency’s odd insistence that the 50 breeding pairs of eagles in Arizona don’t fill a vital gap in the range of the birds nationally — and don’t matter enough to Native American tribes here to merit continued protection.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has once again insisted the Arizona population doesn’t meet the legal requirements for continued protection.
Environmental groups and several tribes have again vowed to appeal the latest finding, which flies in the face of the almost unanimous opinion of field biologists.
The dispute dates back to 2007, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service triumphantly announced that the bald eagle nationally no longer needed the habitat protection offered by its listing under the Endangered Species Act.
But critics like the Centers for Biological Diversity and the Tonto Apache Tribe argued that the Arizona-nesting birds didn’t interbreed with migratory eagles from elsewhere — and remain critical to the spiritual beliefs and cultural practices of a host of Arizona tribes.
Field biologists generally agreed that the Arizona population remains so small that drought or other drastic changes in their habitat could still wipe them out.
However, political appointees in Washington repeatedly overruled the views of the scientists in the field and denied the desert-nesting eagles continued protection — which includes a handful of pairs in Rim Country.
Fortunately, federal law still protects both bald and golden eagles from attack and harassment and the Arizona Game and Fish Department has vowed to continue funding its crucial nest watch program.
However, the delisting will make it harder to safeguard the riparian habitat on which the eagles depend. Since we have already destroyed or degraded 90 percent of our riparian areas, those precious places need all the protection they can get. Moreover, the loss of bald eagles in Arizona would deal a tragic blow to the cultural and spiritual practices of many tribes.
So we see little logic in the federal government’s wrong-headed fight to strip away protection for these extraordinary birds. After all, you don’t get a do-over when it comes to extinction.
County must help GCC
We hope that Gila County can scrape together enough money this year to once again give Gila Community College $300,000 to help cover its utilities and maintenance costs.
Granted, Gila County last year turned over the land and facilities it had been holding in trust for the provisional community college district. Further granted, Gila County will struggle with financial woes of its own this year — as the economy struggles and the Legislature continues to pick the pockets of local governments.
Still, GCC faces potentially debilitating budget problems thanks to the near abandonment of higher education by the state and an enrollment drop last year as young, working families fled Payson’s inert construction market.
GCC faces crucial challenges this year, as it seeks to protect its programs, deepen its relationship with both the school and the backers of a proposed university here.
The board has made some big changes already, healing its once dismaying divisions and systematically tackling the challenges it faces. So we think the district needs and deserves continued help from the county.
Of course, it’s not charity on the county’s part. The college remains a major economic driver for the region. Moreover, its establishment saves residents about $1.5 million annually in the out-of-county tuition costs they’d have to pay if they attended a community college in a different district.
So we hope the supervisors will help again this year, for the sake of taxpayers throughout the county.