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Police to reevaluate shooting range after eagle spotting

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

The Chicago Police Department says nesting bald eagles could force the department to re-evaluate its plans for a controversial outdoor gun range on the far Southeast Side.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed earlier this week bald eagles are nesting in wetlands directly adjacent to the South Side property the Chicago Police Department wants for the range, first reported by WBEZ. The eagle’s presence puts into question any progress police have made after years of planning and backing from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, because the range could potentially violate 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 on Thursday. “Bald eagles are important to the United States as our national bird.”

Though bald eagles were removed from the U.S. Endangered and Threatened species list in 2007, they’re still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and 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."

A bald eagle's nest sits among heron nests next to the area proposed for the range. (WBEZ/Michell Eloy)

“We are certainly sensitive to the issue, and I’m a big animal lover,” said McCarthy.

Plans for a controversial shooting range on Chicago’s far Southeast Side took a big step forward in early January, when the Police Department narrowly won approval from the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation Board to lease property for the project.

Conservationists have long argued that land should be saved, because it’s next to wetlands that are scheduled to be converted to public space and used by rare and endangered birds.

The proposal is currently being reviewed by Zoning board in the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development.

The Chicago City Council still needs to approve the gun range, and it must be re-approved by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District should the city move the proposal forward.

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