- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

A Minnesota man is suing Interior Department Secretary Gale A. Norton to remove the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List, a process that has stalled since the decision to do so was announced six years ago by President Clinton.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit in U.S. District Court of Minnesota yesterday on behalf of private land owner Edmund Contoski, looking to force the Bush administration to fulfill its promise to complete the bureaucratic delisting process by the end of 2004.

“The Endangered Species List was never intended to be a permanent home for species. When species are recovered, the law requires that they be removed from the list to ensure that taxpayer provided resources are only being spent on species that truly need protecting,” said the foundation’s lawyer, Damien Schiff.

As long as the bald eagle is on the Endangered Species List, property owners are required to take special and expensive steps to comply with regulations that may no longer be necessary, the foundation says.

There were fewer than 500 nesting pairs of eagles when the American symbol was added to the Endangered Species List in the 1960s. When Mr. Clinton announced the recovery of the species and delisting at a Fourth of July press event in 1999, there were 5,748 nesting pairs. Current estimates put the eagle’s number at more than 8,000 nesting pairs.

Posing with an eagle named “Challenger,” Mr. Clinton said in 1999 that the “bald eagle is now back from the brink, thriving in virtually every state of the Union.”

The lawsuit names Mrs. Norton and H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and says delisting of the eagle has been “unreasonably delayed.”

Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery says the process became “snared” with questions over how to protect eagle habitat, which the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act makes illegal to “disturb.”

“There is no dispute: The eagles have met the recovery goals,” Mr. Vickery said. “But what does that mean, ‘disturb?’ Scaring the bird or changing its behavior? We’re wrestling with some pretty complicated legal issues.”

The species will continue to be protected by two other federal laws — and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Mr. Vickery said the process to delist the eagle will be announced soon and is not in response to the lawsuit.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is a property-rights group that supports efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act, which the foundation says puts onerous rules on property that can drastically affect its value.

Mr. Constoski’s family has owned property in Morrison County since 1939 that today has an appraised value of $425,000, but a nest in the center of the land prohibits him from building homes anywhere on his property.

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