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Judge extends deadline for removing bald eagle from US endangered species list

[JURIST] A federal district judge issued an order [PDF text] Wednesday giving the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) [official website] until the end of June to finalize a proposed rule removing the American bald eagle [FWS backgrounder] from the federal endangered species list [FWS materials]. US District Judge John R. Tunheim of the District of Minnesota originally set a deadline of Feb. 16 after a property owner won summary judgment in a lawsuit [order, PDF] seeking to force the FWS to comply with deadlines mandated by the Endangered Species Act [text; summary]. The FWS proposed delisting the bald eagle in 1999 [FWS materials; press release] because the bald eagle population had surged from about 500 mating pairs in the 1960s to more than 5,000. Landowner Edmund Contoski, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) [advocacy website], sued the FWS in 2005 after Minnesota environmental officials him ordered him not to develop his property within 330 feet of a bald eagle nest. PLF is threatening to seek sanctions [press release] against federal officials if they fail to meet the new deadline.

FWS sought the delay after it reopened the public comment period [JURIST report] last February on the delistment process, resulting in an outpouring of reaction. On Wednesday, National Public Radio broadcast a report [text and audio] revealing that FWS Director Dale Hall wrote a memo [PDF text] to his superiors in the Interior Department [official website] suggesting that continued protection under other statutes would be "very difficult to enforce without evidence of a dead or injured eagle." He argued for a broader definition of activities that "disturb" bald eagles. That definition is key to how the bald eagle is protected under statutes other than the Endangered Species Act, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act [text; summary] and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act [text; summary]. The Star Tribune has more.

This report was prepared in partnership with the Pittsburgh Journal of Environmental and Public Health Law.

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