Time to comment on eagle data and status reviews

By Emily Ronis

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the protected status of the yellow-billed cuckoo and is soliciting comments and information on the review and other proceedings. ©Andrew Weitzel

In recent weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has posted three wildlife-related notices in the Federal Register and are accepting public comments and information submissions.

Bald and Golden Eagle Collision Risk Models

The first of these opportunities relates to a collision risk model for bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) at wind energy facilities. The model’s estimates are used to inform incidental take permit allowances for the eagles, which are protected under both the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In previous years, USFWS used golden eagle data as a proxy to estimate bald eagle collisions because bald eagle-specific data was not available. Recently, the Service was able to update their data for golden eagles and gather new data specific to bald eagles.

“The Service acknowledges, however, that the bald eagle collision prior [data] is based on data from relatively few sites that do not span the range of bald eagle density conditions that exist across the country, and therefore may not be representative of all locations,” the USFWS wrote in the notice.

Acknowledging these limitations, the USFWS presented three alternatives for incorporating the new data into the CRM, each with varying implications for how the modeling estimates would influence permitting. For example, the first alternative would use the updated data for both species and use the “80th quantile of the CRM fatality estimates as the initial permitted take number for permits, as is the current practice.” This would result in the Service using higher fatality estimates for bald eagles than golden eagles.

The Service will be accepting comments until Aug. 20.

Status Reviews for Threatened and Endangered Species

The USFWS is also soliciting new information for consideration in five-year status reviews for 50 threatened and endangered species.

The Service conducts status reviews every five years to examine the best available science and determine if species listed as threatened or endangered are appropriately protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After reviewing the best available science, the USFWS can recommend maintaining the listing, reclassifying the species or removing protections for the species.

This species in this notice are found in California, Nevada and the Klamath Basin of Oregon and include California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni), Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) and the Western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus).

The USFWS is requesting new information on these species to be submitted by Aug. 17.

Findings on ESA Petitions

The Service also recently published its 90-day findings on three petitions to protect or remove species under the ESA.

When the USFWS receives a petition to add, alter or remove ESA protections for a species, the Service has 90 days to review the information presented in the petition and can make either a ‘substantial’ or ‘not substantial’ finding. A ‘substantial’ finding means that the petitioned action may be warranted based on the evidence presented and the Service will further investigate the species’ status and threats. A ‘not substantial’ finding means the evidence presented did not justify further action by the Service.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have the Dixie Valley toad (Bufo wiliamsi) listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. The USFWS made a substantive finding that listing the toad may be warranted.

The USFWS also made a substantive finding for a petition filed by The American Bird Conservancy to list the Oregon vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus affinis).

The Service is also reviewing a petition to remove protections for the western distinct population segment of the yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). Groups presented evidence that the species is using additional habitat and argued that the USFWS erroneously classified the population as a distinct population segment.

The USFWS made a substantive finding based on the evidence that the population is using additional habitat not due to an inaccurate designation, though the Service will reexamine the population’s status during the review process.

The Service is currently accepting information and input on these reviews as they continue their investigation into the species’ statuses.

Parties interested in submitting information or a comment on these proceedings can do so electronically through the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

Emily Ronis is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Emily's articles.

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