Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act

Use this page to understand and remain compliant with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). Eagles were removed from the threatened and endangered species list in 2007 and are now protected by the Eagle Act (16 USC 668-668) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Eagle Act applies to any work that may take or disturb eagles or their nests regardless if the project has a federal nexus. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) biologists will obtain a permit if needed for WSDOT projects. Local agencies, utility companies, and others that may do work within the right-of-way are responsible for obtaining an eagle permit if needed.

What the Eagle Act prohibits

The Eagle Act makes it illegal to take (kill, wound, pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, capture, trap, collect, molest, or disturb) bald or golden eagles.

Disturb is defined in the Eagle Act as "to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that caused,

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."

Compliance with the Eagle Act

To avoid potential disturbance to bald eagles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, which provide recommendations to avoid or minimize adverse impacts. Use these guidelines to determine how WSDOT will comply with the Eagle Act (e.g., by having timing or distance restrictions, etc.). Projects that may disturb active nests are encouraged to conduct work outside the nesting period, which is January 1 to August 15. Distance thresholds determine how close an activity may come to an active nest or eagle roost. The recommendations may not be conservative enough for golden eagles. 

Ensure compliance by assessing potential project impacts to bald eagles. Consultants use a Bald Eagle form to document adherence to the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and any local requirements. Bald Eagle forms are available in two versions.

Commitments to ensure compliance with the Eagle Act are included in NEPA/SEPA (National and State Environmental Policy Acts) documentation.

Noncompliance can result in a year in prison and a fine of $100,000 for an individual or $200,000 for an organization. A second violation of the Eagle Act is a felony and can result in a maximum of two years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for an organization. Maximum civil penalties are $5,000 for each violation.

When to apply for a permit

If your project can’t comply with the Eagle Act (for example, your project won’t be able to meet the distance or timing restrictions to comply with the management guidelines), a permit is required. Disturbance includes activities that may occur during construction and those that occur after construction is complete (foreseeable, ongoing future uses). Therefore, impacts may not necessarily be limited to the footprint of the initial activity.

In general, routine activities such as maintenance of existing facilities would not need to be permitted unless the activity resulted in a significantly different use intensity and would increase the likelihood eagles will be disturbed.

If a disturbance that will be a potential violation of the act is likely, a permit to authorize take of eagles is required. Please contact Kelly McAllister, at WSDOT Headquarters Fish & Wildlife Program (360-705-7426) for more information on obtaining a permit.