Bald Eagle to Be Taken Off Endangered List

Edmund Contoski of Minneapolis filed the lawsuit that prompted the delisting of bald eagles. A nest on property he owns meant he could not follow through with plans to subdivide the land.
Edmund Contoski of Minneapolis filed the lawsuit that prompted the delisting of bald eagles. A nest on property he owns meant he could not follow through with plans to subdivide the land. (By Peter Slevin -- The Washington Post)

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS -- Seven years after the U.S. government moved to take the bald eagle off the endangered species list, the Bush administration intends to complete the step by February, prodded by a frustrated libertarian property owner in Minnesota.

The delisting, supported by mainstream environmental groups, would represent a formal declaration that the eagle population has sufficiently rebounded, increasing more than 15-fold since its 1963 nadir to more than 7,000 nesting pairs.

The next challenge is to ensure the national symbol's continued protection.

"By February 16th, the bald eagle will be delisted," said Marshall Jones, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We'll be clear so people won't think, 'It's open season on bald eagles.' No way."

Although the majestic raptor will no longer be covered by the Endangered Species Act, two earlier laws and a few carefully written phrases are expected to balance respect for the eagle with an appreciation for property rights.

"It's not as though we're pulling away the Endangered Species Act and you have nothing else," said John Kostyak, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation, which supports the delisting.

Kostyak called the eagle's recovery "an amazing success story," but said if the species' numbers unexpectedly decline, the bird can be added to the list anew.

It was a bald eagle's nest that undid Edmund Contoski. And it was Edmund Contoski who filed a federal lawsuit that prompted U.S. District Judge John Tunheim to set the February deadline for the government to act or explain why not.

Contoski's problem, as he saw it, was the nest high in a pine on his property alongside Sullivan Lake, about 100 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. When the nest was reported to state environmental authorities, he was a few weeks away from carving out a road and several lots, hoping to make good on a family investment.

No eagles were using the nest that year -- they returned later -- but the discovery meant that no one could build within 330 feet. The land was suddenly useless for development, and Contoski was steamed.

"I can't even cut firewood," he said. "I can't trim a tree. I can't do anything."

He tracked down the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has a record of challenging endangered-species rules. Better yet, Pacific attorney Damien Schiff was willing to file suit for free.


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