FLAGSTAFF – The Navajo Nation has guaranteed protections for the bald eagle by adding it to the tribe’s endangered species list a year after the federal government removed the bird from its list.
David Mikesic, a zoologist with the tribe’s Natural Heritage Program under Navajo Fish and Wildlife, said this month’s approval of protections for the bald eagle represents a move within the agency to become more of a player in the recovery of the species.
“I’m always looking to expand our abilities to manage and protect our endangered animals and plants,” Mikesic said. “I suspect that since this was well-received, it could certainly open the doors for more possibilities.”
The Navajo Nation updates its endangered species list every two to three years. It includes plants and animals that aren’t on the federal list as well as those the federal government considers endangered or threatened.
The federal government dropped the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List last year, though the national symbol remains protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“Independent of how the species is doing in the rest of its range, if it’s not doing well here, then we have the ability to list it and treat it as such,” Mikesic said, adding the action was not in response to the federal delisting.
The tribe’s regulations meant to protect bald eagles also apply to golden eagles, which the tribe lists as threatened. Mikesic said protection of nests is important because not all adult eagle pairs breed each year and even if a nest appears to be deserted, eagles may rebuild and reoccupy them.
Under the regulations, Navajo Fish and Wildlife officials would establish circular buffers around the nests and limit human activity during the breeding season to protect nesting eagles, their eggs and young. The types of permanent structures that could be built within those buffers also would be regulated.
“It’s our attempt to say we recognize that nesting eagles have a need for a certain amount of area in which to hunt and which to defend the territory and which to raise their young,” Mikesic said. “We would like to keep that area disturbance-free.”
Daniela Roth, a botanist with the Navajo Natural Heritage Program, said the tribe also is working to protect an endangered cactus that grows mostly on tribal land.
Four areas in and around the Navajo community of Shiprock, N.M., have been designated a conservation area for the Mesa Verde Cactus. The land, 14,000 acres, is the first set aside for an endangered or threatened plant on the reservation.
“They’re all off limits to any future development,” Roth said.
The population of the cactus, which grows in Mancos shale exposed from the Colorado border south to Naschitti on the Navajo Nation and on some state and federal land, has dwindled in recent years because of drought, urban development, off-road vehicles, and oil and gas drilling, Roth said.