[Source: Kate Nolan, Arizona Republic] -- Federal wildlife authorities may face lawsuits from Indian tribal leaders in Arizona who are upset over the handling of their views on the proposed delisting of bald eagles as endangered species. Tribal leaders walked out of a Wednesday session at Cabela's in Glendale, threatened legal action and affirmed their unified opposition to taking the bald eagles off the list. Benjamin Tuggle, Southwest regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited 13 Arizona tribes to the hearing after the tribes charged they hadn't been consulted on the issue. The San Carlos Apaches had passed a resolution against delisting. The bald eagle is sacred to many Native Americans, and 20 percent of the animals' 50 breeding areas in Arizona are on Indian land.
Tuggle called the meeting so tribes could express concerns and he could clarify the eagle delisting process, which Fish and Wildlife first proposed in 1999. After Tuggle acknowledged that the delisting decision was beyond the scope of his regional office, tribal leaders increasingly questioned whether their comments would have any impact. Tuggle said the decision would be based entirely on scientific findings. Paul Schmidt, a Fish and Wildlife official from Washington, D.C., explained that the agency would protect bald eagles if they are delisted, but his comments stirred debate about why he wasn't specifically addressing Arizona's bald eagle population of 43 breeding pairs. The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon have sued the government, making a case that Arizona's eagles are an endangered population segment apart from the 20,000 eagles in the rest of the country that appear to have recovered after being decimated by pesticides in the 1950s. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]