Agency wants Ariz. bald eagles off endangered list

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that bald eagles living in the Sonoran Desert should be taken off a list of protected species.

The agency found that the 200-some bald eagles in Arizona aren't significant enough to be considered separately - and therefore deserving of special protection - from the entire U.S. population of more than 20,000 birds. Its decision needs approval from a federal judge.

Bald eagles nationwide were removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007 after the government found the population had successfully recovered from the roughly 850 bald eagles in the U.S. in 1963.

U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia ordered Fish and Wildlife to restore the Sonoran Desert bald eagle to the list in March 2008 after ruling that Arizona's desert-nesting bald eagles may face greater risk of extinction than the rest of the country's population. The order required Fish and Wildlife to re-evaluate removing Arizona's bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act.

Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the agency's decision a "death sentence" for Arizona's bald eagles.

"It's pretty devastating," he said. "They won't go extinct in my lifetime, but they could in my kids' lifetime."

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Buckley said the state's bald eagles still will be protected under other federal laws and state law.

The eagles nest along the Salt and Verde rivers in central and northern Arizona, and historically have settled in New Mexico and Texas. Among threats to their habitat are dams, cattle grazing on public lands, off-road vehicle corridors and stream dewatering, conservationists say.

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