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FWC Considers Bald Eagle Management Changes

Karen Bullock via Flick creative commons

As Florida’s Bald Eagle population continues to increase, state wildlife officials are considering changes to the state’s management plan for the iconic raptors. 

Commissioners with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission got an update from staff in April about the status of bald eagles including recommended changes in permitting and in how the agency should approach management of the species going forward.  Leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section Dr. Brad Gruver led the presentation.  He said the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT in 1972 and subsequent efforts to conserve nesting habitat has had a dramatic impact on the birds’ population.

“We went over some of the trends from earlier times showing that there’s been a pretty large increase in bald eagles both nationally and in Florida,” said Gruver.  “In fact, in Florida, eagle numbers have gone somewhere from around about 88 nesting pairs in the early 70s to about 1,500 last year.”

Bald Eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007 and were removed from the state’s threatened species list in 2008.  Gruver said staff recommends that FWC sunset its permitting process for activities with the potential to disturb bald eagles and leave those permitting processes up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The federal agency adopted a new bald eagle permitting charter in January.

“So when the Fish and Wildlife Service came up with their permitting framework it was very well aligned with ours up until they made these recent changes,” said Gruver.  “Those changes made their process and our process not so well aligned and that’s where we thought it would serve conservation of the eagle best if we back out of permitting and let the Fish and Wildlife Service do all the eagle permitting.”

Gruver said the duplicate permitting requirements take up staff time and provide no additional conservation benefit. 

FWC is also looking to replace the state’s bald eagle management plan with a more concise species action plan that will include non-regulatory conservation actions and highlight research the agency says still needs to be done. 

FWC staff are working to have a draft of the new species action plan available for public review by the end of June.  Gruver says FWC will be announcing a webinar soon for the public to weigh in.  Those who want to get involved or provide input on the proposed changes are encouraged to send e-mail to eagle_plan@myfwc.com.