Archive for ‘Nature / Wildlife’

June 10, 2004

The Comeback of Bald Eagles – No Longer Endangered Species

(6/10/04). The national bird has made a comeback in the last few decades, after being on the verge of extinction from vast DDT poisoning in the ‘60s and ‘70s that thinned their eggshells and crashed their birth rate, destruction of their habitats with the growth of the country, contamination of waterways and food sources, and shootings by ranchers trying to protect their sheep. They can now be found nesting in places like Llano, Texas, where it was a rarity to see them that far west. Although, DDT pesticide is outlawed in the U.S., it is still used on South American crops, which may have contributed to their return to U.S. skies. In 1997, they were down-listed from the federally endangered species list. Endangered species are those that are in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Threatened species are likely to become endangered in the near future. 

According to Environmental Defense, a New York-based conservation group, there are more than 7,678 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous 48 states. In 1963, there were 417 pairs. It was endangered in 43 states by 1978 and threated in five others. It was reclassified as threatened in the lower 48 states in 1995. It was never in danger in Alaska, where there are over 35,000 of them (about half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagle population). 
Five years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking bald eagles off the list of protected species; however, it never acted. The delisting process has taken longer than the typical year because drafting a five-year, post-recovery plan for a range as huge as the bald eagle involves updated statewide counts and eagle-protection rules already in place have hindered the process. 

The Bush administration expects the bald eagle will be off the threatened list this year. Still, it will need special protection and will be safeguarded under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the federal Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 that prohibits killing or selling eagles. No one can “take, transport, sale, barter, trade, import and export.” Possession is illegal without a permit. This includes eagle parts, nests, and eggs. Possession of a feather or other body part is a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment. Federally recognized Native Americans may possess these emblems that are traditional in their culture. In their lore, a single eagle feather is believed to possess great power so they incorporate the eagle’s primaries and tail feathers into their ceremonies and legends. 
In the early 1700’s, the bald eagle population was estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 birds. Public awareness still must be enacted, because even though they are out of danger, they still are harassed, injured/killed by guns, traps, power lines, windmills, and poisons. Only a few species have “fought their way back from the United States’ endangered species list.” They include the California gray whale, the American alligator, and the bald eagle. Colin Rowan, Environmental Defense’s spokesman, says, “it’s the most recognizable, beloved animal we have. We want the country to have a good success story to talk about.”

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