Bald Eagle Recovery Poses Challenges for Builders
Ironically, removing bald eagles from protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could bring residential development to a screeching halt if it is found to have a negative impact on their habitat because the emblematic bird is protected by two other federal laws that, unlike the ESA, don’t make provisions to accommodate home building and other activities.
Recovery of the bald eagle, which has been listed as endangered or threatened since 1967, is one of the Endangered Species Act’s great success stories. But the eagle’s wide distribution and broad habitat — it is currently listed as threatened in each of the lower 48 states — mean that builders and developers in virtually every state could be affected if its ESA protection comes to an end.
As a national symbol, the bald eagle has received special protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. When builders and developers comply with ESA rules to protect the eagle, they can also satisfy the conditions of these two federal laws. Unfortunately, only the ESA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations that implement that law provide a mechanism for minimizing the impact of human activity on the eagle and its habitat.
Depending on the level and type of activities that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines disturb the eagle, delisting could result in regulations that are similar to those that currently exist under the ESA or even bring an improvement. However, new regulation has the potential to result in:
- “No-touch” zones extending for hundreds of feet around nest sites
- Seasonal work restrictions
- Best management practices
- Survey or monitoring requirements
These complex issues have arisen in the past.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed delisting the eagle nearly six years ago, the agency’s current regulatory activity suggests that a delisting of the eagle may now be forthcoming.
The NAHB Environmental Issues Committee is an active participant in this debate and will be working to ensure that the bald eagle, the nation’s symbol and one of the great ESA success stories, continues to thrive through common-sense regulatory policy without placing unnecessary burdens on builders and developers.
For more information, e-mail Christopher Galik at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8663.