A developer's plan to install a golf course and 71 houses along the Snake River near Jackson has raised convoluted legal questions that sound more like bad jokes. One example: How many eagles does it take to build a golf course?


That question came up when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted Dick Edgcomb an "incidental take" permit in April, allowing Edgcomb's proposed Canyon Club development to displace or kill up to 18 of the bald eagles that nest along the river.


Edgcomb controls six miles of riverbank on a pristine stretch of the Snake River Canyon. His 1,200-acre parcel, surrounded by national forest, is a scenic gateway to Jackson Hole. The development also would preserve 322 acres as open space, but it's stirred opposition from river runners, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.


Concerned about the eagles and that the project might lead to levees and other river controls, environmentalists are suing in federal court. They're trying to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the basic permit, to do a full environmental impact study.


How eagles would react to the Canyon Club is an open question. "Eagles have personalities like you and I do," says Dave Cernicek, river manager on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. "I might not be bothered by a bulldozer in my front yard. You might not be able to stand it."