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Bald Eagles Threaten South Side Gun Range

By Kim Bellware in News on Feb 11, 2012 4:00PM

Bald Eagle in Antioch, Ill. (photo by Chicagoist Flickr Pool user bullsfan)

What do you do when you have wetlands on the far southeast side of Chicago? Dry them? Save them? If you're a convocation of eagles, you nest in them. The Chicago Police Department, meanwhile, has had long-time plans to build a shooting range on the property directly adjacent to the wetlands.

After eagles were spotted nesting near the grounds of the proposed shooting range earlier this week, the CPD may have to re-evaluate the plans which were backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in January. The range's presence potentially violates long-standing federal laws meant to protect the species.

“We are working with all our federal and state partners to determine whether or not we would be endangering anything in the environment,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaking to WBEZ yesterday. “Bald eagles are important to the United States as our national bird.”

As WBEZ points out, bald eagles were removed from the U.S. Endangered and Threatened species list in 2007. Today, they’re still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

According to guidelines from Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, people are prohibited from disturbing the birds:

For purposes of these guidelines, "disturb" means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior."

Even before the birds were spotted, the proposed shooting range faced opposition from conservationists wanting more protection for the adjacent wetlands. Both Mayor Daley and Emanuel supported the range; last month, the CPD eked out approval to lease property for the project from the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation Board.

For now, the Chicago office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to return to the site to learn more on how the noise of a gun range might affect the eagles’ nest. The city, meanwhile, will need to pony up more info on the proposed gun range so the agency can determine if the plans violate the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

If the agency clears the plans, there are several more rounds before the gun range gets the stamp to go forward: the Chicago City Council must approve the range, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District must re-approve plans if the city pushes the proposal forward.

The proposed site is at 2025 E .134th St., across the Calumet River from Hegewisch Marsh.