Permit needed for South Side gun range

February 22, 2012

Michell Eloy

(WBEZ/Michell Eloy)
A bald eagle perches on a telephone pole near the area proposed for the gun range.

The Chicago Police Department has another hurdle to clear before it can build a proposed outdoor shooting range in the city.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday the police department needs a permit to move forward with plans for an outdoor gun range on the far South Side because of the proposed range's proximity to nesting bald eagles.

The Fish and Wildlife confirmed earlier this month a pair of bald eagles are nesting right next to where police want the range.

Without the permit, the range could violate the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Among other things, the latter law prohibits people from disturbing the birds, which the federal government defines as “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."

Fish and Wildlife biologist Shawn Cirton said permit review could take between two and 24 months.

"There aren't any set guidelines, and it could take longer because of the complex issues surrounding this particular project," said Cirton.

The permit would need to be approved by the Migratory Bird division in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Midwest Office. The agency said it plans to return to the site to further assess how the proposed gun range might affect the nesting eagles.

"The main thing we look at for ... a permit issued to disturb a nesting pair of eagles is, first of all, how to avoid it [disruption to the eagles]," said Jodi Millar, who's with Fish and Wildlife's Rock Island office in Moline, Ill., the office that would assess a permit. "What are alternative actions that can be taken? Even timing sometimes can do it, distance, buffers. A lot of these birds are very tolerant to activity."

The Chicago Police Department said it's aware of Fish and Wildlife's assessment and is in the process of applying for a permit.