Capitol Media Services
The lawsuit charges the federal agency "ignored or discounted information,” including from its own biologists, that the desert eagles are sufficiently different from other bald eagles to be considered for their own protected status.
The attorneys said it is irrelevant that the overall population of bald eagles is not threatened. They said desert eagles — about 60 breeding pairs are known to exist — are "on the brink of extinction.”
"A population viability estimate based on data from the Arizona Game and Fish Department suggests that desert eagles will likely become extinct in approximately 75 years,” the lawsuit says.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society are not asking Judge David Campbell to order that the eagle be listed as endangered. But what they do want is a directive to the Fish and Wildlife Service to "promptly conduct a lawful status review of the desert eagle population to determine whether it is threatened or endangered.”
That emphasis comes because judges have slapped down previous findings by the federal agency concluding the desert eagle does not deserve special status.
In 2008, Judge Mary Murguia said she had "no confidence” the agency made an objective decision on the petition to list the eagle. She ordered Fish and Wildlife to do a new study.
Campbell rejected a second study last year, with a new directive to redo it. That new study, released earlier this year, reached the same conclusion that the desert eagle is not a "distinctive population segment” entitled to its own listing.
Attorney Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the agency again got it wrong.
"They’re making the bar too high,” he said.
Augustine said one factor in determining if a population of any species is entitled to protection is a determination that it is "unique.”
"And here we’ve done that,” he said, including showing how this eagle has adapted to the desert environment. The lawsuit says it is not only smaller than other bald eagles but has "behavioral distinctions” like cliff nesting and early season breeding.
"Essentially what they’re saying is, ‘It’s unique, but it’s not just unique enough,” Augustine said of the findings of Fish and Wildlife and its refusal to list the desert eagle as endangered.
Attorney Daniel Rohlf of Earthwise Law Center said the Fish and Wildlife Service is arguing that there need to be sufficient genetic and behavioral differences between the desert eagle and other bald eagles to be considered a "distinct population segment” worthy of its own consideration for protection.
An agency spokesman said she could not comment immediately on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says action is necessary because the desert eagle faces various threats to its habitat.
"The Southwest has already lost about 90 percent of its historical riparian communities,” the attorney said. And they said other factors, ranging from effects of mining and cattle grazing to toxic pollution and a decline in prey animals threaten what is left.