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Az’s desert nesting bald eagles exception to species’ recovery

National media already are anticipating that all of America’s bald eagles will be removed soon from the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, despite an Arizona move to continue protecting the state’s relatively few desert-nesting bald eagles.

Federal authorities are expected by Friday to decide if the national symbol should be dropped from the endangered species list.

National media are already trumpeting “back from the brink” stories that anticipate bald eagles will be declared recovered:

● “Virtually everyone involved in protecting the eagle expects the answer will be yes,” crowed Harry Smith on Sunday Morning, a CBS TV news show.

● The Associated Press and Reuters news services have sent out stories assessing the nation’s eagle population as “soaring” and anticipating their loss of the endangered designation.

● Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert literally applauded the eagles’ recovery and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s eight-year effort to have them de-listed.

In the lower 48 states, eagles have rebounded from a population of 417 breeding pairs in 1963 to nearly 11,000 today.

In contrast, Arizona’s smaller, lighter, earlier-breeding desert-nesting bald eagles – which environmental advocates maintain are a separate subspecies – number 43 pairs.

While nationally, the eagles’ population growth may be getting as well known as Barry Bonds’ home run numbers, few journalists beyond Arizona have noticed that most eagle experts, more than 20 American Indian tribes and the National Audubon Society oppose de-listing Arizona eagles.

U.S. Reps. Harry Mitchell and Raúl Grijalva, both Arizona Democrats, have protested de-listing Arizona eagles.

The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon sued the federal government, claiming Arizona eagles are an endangered population.

Most Arizona tribes have written letters or passed resolutions against de-listing Arizona bald eagles, which generally are smaller, have thicker eggshells and don’t breed with other eagles.

Raptor Research, the leading national organization for studying birds of prey, recommended continuing protection for Arizona eagles.

Robin Silver, board chairman of the Center for Biological Diversity, said he’s recently been interviewed by numerous national media outlets preparing stories for the anticipated de-listing.

“Everyone wants to celebrate the recovery of the eagle and they’re getting caught up in it. It’s easier to do that than explain that the eagle is in jeopardy in the Southwest. I’m not confident they are going to do that,” Silver said.

“It’s such a feel-good story that they are put aback that anyone would want to rain on such a big parade,” said Silver, a Phoenix emergency room doctor.

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