The process for eagle rule revision
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) analyzed aspects of bald and golden eagle management as part of its responsibility under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Public input is an important part of this process. The Service’s NEPA analysis evaluated the environmental effects of a range of alternatives for eagle management, including changes to permit regulations. The Service used NEPA analysis to:
- Evaluate up-to-date information about the status of bald and golden eagle populations
- Enable the Service to recalculate regional take thresholds for both species (if population management will continue to incorporate regional take thresholds)
- Analyze the effects of allowing permits to take golden eagles east of the 100th meridian
- Further analyze the effects of longer term non-purposeful take permits
- Rigorously evaluate the effects of low-risk (low-effect) projects to allow for more efficient permitting at the individual project level
The Service drafted eagle permit regulation changes with NEPA, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA implementing regulations, and the Service’s NEPA implementing procedures. This DPEIS examines the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts associated with the proposed development and implementation of eagle management and the permitting framework.
The purpose of DPEIS is to inform the Service’s decision makers and the public of the potential environmental consequences of the proposed action and its alternatives. An interdisciplinary team of eagle experts, regulatory experts, biologists, environmental scientists, socioeconomists, planners, and NEPA specialists prepared the DPEIS. The breadth of subject matter in this NEPA document and the nature of the environmental resources potentially affected required that the Service consider many laws, regulations, and Executive Orders (EOs) related to environmental protection.
The NEPA Task Force, established by the CEQ in 2002, reported that “Programmatic NEPA analyses and tiering can reduce or eliminate redundant and duplicative analyses and effectively address cumulative effects”. A programmatic environmental document, such as the eagle DPEIS, is prepared when an agency is proposing to carry out a broad action, program, or policy. The programmatic approach creates a comprehensive, analytical framework that supports subsequent analyses of specific actions at site- and ecoregion-specific locations within the nation. Programmatic analysis can save resources by providing NEPA coverage for an entire program, allowing subsequent NEPA analyses to be more narrowly focused on specific activities at specific locations.
Tiering is a staged approach to NEPA described in CEQ’s NEPA Implementing Regulations. Tiering addresses broad programs and issues in the initial analysis and analyzes site-specific actions and impacts in subsequent NEPA tiered studies. The geographic region for the DPEIS is the entire United States, thus the Service would be able to tier additional site-specific environmental analyses under NEPA as actions that would flow out of this DPEIS. This DPEIS is a first-tier environmental review. The Service anticipates tiering subsequent EAs for site-specific projects involving incidental take of eagles off of this PEIS. The purpose of tiering subsequent EAs is to eliminate repetitive discussions of the same issues previously addressed in this PEIS and to focus on the actual issues ready for decision.
For the most part, when permitting projects that will not take eagles above the EMU take limits (unless it is offset), will not result in cumulative authorized take within the LAP exceeding 5 percent, and will fulfill their mitigation requirements by contribution to the national mitigation fund or funds as analyzed in this PEIS, subsequent environmental analyses under NEPA would need to only summarize the issues discussed in the PEIS and incorporate by reference discussions from the PEIS. One exception is the analysis of migratory birds due to the broad brush programmatic approach in this PEIS. Tiered NEPA analyses should address specific migratory bird species impacts to the extent that this PEIS does not cover them. Any future environmental analyses should concentrate on the issues specific to the site and type of project.
A screening form for use by project proponents to determine if a project falls under the scope of this PEIS would be developed. A separate NEPA analysis (i.e., EA or EIS) would need to be conducted if the screening form identifies that one or more resources have not been fully addressed by this PEIS. In addition to filling out the screening form, project applicants would need to follow specific criteria and data collection requirements for permit applications and submissions as specified in the revised rule to clearly show how many eagles they anticipate taking so as to determine if a project should be able to tier from this PEIS.
In complying with NEPA, the Service has determined that a “programmatic” EIS is appropriate in this situation. The purpose of a programmatic EIS is further described in the Service’s NEPA Handbook.
In addition to evaluating the environmental effects of a range of alternatives for eagle management, the Service used NEPA analysis to:
- Present up-to-date information about the status of bald and golden eagle populations
- Support the Service’s development of regional conservation and management goals for both eagle species
- Analyze the effects of issuing permits for take of bald eagles and golden eagles throughout the U.S. under modified permit regulations
- Analyze the effects of longer-term non-purposeful take permits
- Evaluate the cumulative effects of low-risk (low-effect) projects to allow for more efficient permitting at the individual project level.