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Lawmaker: Arizona’s bald eagles need additional protection from state

Bald eagles need additional protection, especially preservation of their habitat, to survive in Arizona, a state lawmaker contends.

“If we don’t do something to protect their habitat, they will face extinction,” said Rep. Ed Ableser, a Tempe Democrat.

For the third straight year, Ableser is sponsoring a sweeping bill that would require additional state-level management of bald eagles along with other endangered and threatened species.

And for the third straight year, he said, the measure is going nowhere despite what he said is a clear need to protect bald eagles from threats such as drying rivers, the loss of cottonwood trees and human encroachment.

“This bill is the only hope they have left,” Ableser said. “Without our protection, their habitats will be completely lost and so will their entire population.”

Threatened with extinction in recent decades, the bald eagle has rebounded around the country to the point that federal officials have removed it from the list of protected species. Arizona’s population, however, remains listed as threatened while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluates its status.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, which manages a program to protect nesting sites and increase the bald eagle population, estimates 61 nesting sites around Arizona. In 1972, there were just four.

Ableser’s measure, H2264, would require Game and Fish to take steps to protect the habitat and increase the numbers of endangered or threatened species within the carrying capacity of a region. Among other provisions, it would require the agency to designate habitat boundaries and create a commission to oversee the efforts to aid species.
The bill also would list bald eagles as an endangered species in Arizona through 2017.

“The most majestic view anyone can ever see is our bald eagle soaring over the Grand Canyon,” Ableser said. “The notion they may become extinct because we didn’t help really scares me.”

Eric Gardner, nongame branch chief for Game and Fish, said the commission governing his agency hasn’t taken a position on Ableser’s bill in part because it isn’t going anywhere.

Kenneth Jacobson, bald eagle management coordinator for Game and Fish, wouldn’t offer an opinion on Ableser’s bill but noted that Arizona’s population of bald eagles has increased consistently in recent years.

Robin Silver, co-founder for the Tucson-based Center of Biological Diversity, said the biggest threat to bald eagles is the loss of habitat.

“This piece of legislation is everything,” Silver said. “It’s our last hope to protect our state’s most visible and loved symbol from harm.”

Sandy Bahr, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said that ultimately Ableser’s bill would limit the destruction of bald eagle habitat.

“The desert nesting bald eagle is part of our culture and history and should continue to have protection,” Bahr said. “Arizona itself could do that through implementation of this endangered species act.”

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