Management objectives shape how the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to preserve eagle populations. These objectives must be in accordance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). Management objectives direct strategic management and monitoring and, ultimately, determine the amount of permitted eagle take that can be allowed. The management objectives do not have to be the same for both bald eagles and golden eagles.
At least four elements could be considered when setting the management objective:
The goal for the number of eagles in the wild and the timeframe to meet that goal.
The areas over which population objectives are set. Each geographic area is an “eagle management unit” (EMU).
Whether or not the Service also sets an upper limit on take at a smaller scale than the EMU to prevent permitting-induced population “sinks” (decreases in local breeding populations).
The level of risk the Service is willing to take when some information to inform management decisions is unknown. For example, when information is less certain, more conservative choices can be made to avoid risk. Alternatively, to provide for more flexibility in permitting, the Service could adopt a more risk-tolerant approach.
The Service’s Current Eagle Management Objective
The Service established the current management objective with the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule: consistent with the goal of stable or increasing breeding populations within each EMU over at least five eagle generations. The EMUs correspond to Bird Conservation Regions for golden eagles, and Service administrative regions for bald eagles.
The Service also developed guidance on setting upper limits at more local scales to manage cumulative impacts to local populations to minimize sinks. Biologists calculated estimates of bald and golden eagle populations in each EMU, and used EMU population models to determine a level of take that would not decrease breeding populations.
Possible Alternative Management Objectives
The Service is considering a range of possible alternatives to the current management objectives. At one end of the spectrum, agency scientists have considered a qualitative objective such as “to not meaningfully impair the bald or golden eagle’s continued existence.” On the other end, the current management objective could be updated with new information on eagle biology, population size, movements across the landscape, and natal dispersal distances.
Within the more quantitative approach, the Service could adopt an explicit level of risk tolerance relative to how much take to allow based on uncertainty in the population size estimates.