Posted: July 1, 2007, 12:00 a.m. PDT
Conservationists throughout the United States rejoiced in late June as the Department of the Interior announced that the country’s national symbol no longer has a place on the federal Endangered Species List. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced on June 28 that the Bald Eagle’s population increased sufficiently to "de-list” the raptor because it no longer needs protection from the Endangered Species Act.
"In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles,” Kempthorne said during a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. "Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years.”
Bald Eagles will remain protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibit "taking” — killing, harming or selling eagles, nests and eggs. In June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, which explains how landowners and others can remain in compliance with both acts on their properties.
The Endangered Species Act specifies that delisted species be monitored, so U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will keep tabs on the eagles for at least five years. The species can be relisted if it appears that the birds need greater protection. Bald Eagle was one of the first species added to the list in 1973 when the ESA became law.
Among the conservationists celebrating the Bald Eagle’s removal from the Endangered Species List are WildBird Advisory Board members, such as Peter Stangel, who writes Conservation Corner in each issue. Stangel works for National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and has provided Conservation Corner since the January 2000 issue.
"For me, this is one more shining example of mankind’s capacity to right an earlier wrong,” he said. "Being able to remove any species from the endangered list is a tremendous accomplishment. When we are talking about our nation’s symbol, and an extraordinary bird to boot, it’s just plain spine-tingling.
"I’m particularly attached to the Bald Eagle, and I think most Americans are, whether they realize it or not,” Stangel said. "When I worked in Washington, D.C., I would sometimes see eagles flying over the city. How cool to see this magnificent raptor sailing over our nation’s capital?
"Just a few weeks ago, two eagles — one adult and one first-year bird — cruised over our home in South Carolina,” he said. "I could barely contain my glee to add this bird to my yard list!”
Stangel hopes that the species’ resurgence energizes conservationists to continue with their efforts, despite the challenges. "I wish that it would reassure the public that man and nature can coexist. I dream that it would touch the hearts of our political leaders and encourage them to step forward and help continue to protect the natural resources that are cherished by millions of Americans.”
Author, speaker, trip leader and artist Kenn Kaufman also hailed the announcement as great news. "Bald Eagles have been increasing at such an impressive rate in recent years that they are clearly on the rebound,” he said. "Here in Ohio, they have increased from just two nesting pairs to well over 100, and they’re starting to nest right around the edges of towns, showing that they can tolerate a lot of human presence.
"De-listing the bird doesn’t mean that people are suddenly going to start shooting Bald Eagles or chopping down their nest trees,” Kaufman said. "I expect that their increase will continue.
"I know that some conservationists are apprehensive about the de-listing, and I respect their opinions,” he said, "but I think it’s a great thing to be able to take a species off of the endangered list. It demonstrates that the ESA can work and that protection can bring a species back to healthy populations.”
Photographer and WildBird Advisory Board member Brian E. Small considers the event a great achievement for the conservation community. "It proves that if people really care about changing the course of a species in decline, it can be done.
"The Bald Eagle of all the birds in our country needed protection the most,” he said. "It’s our national symbol and represents the freedom of the United States. If we couldn’t protect it, then would we ever protect any species that were/are threatened in the U.S.?”
Small said the Bald Eagle’s resurgence shows how conservation really can work when government agencies cooperate on important projects. "Maybe it will lead to future success stories and will help protect more of our natural heritage.”
Writer, birding guide and speaker Pete Dunne simply said, "Who doesn’t love a success story?”
The New Jersey resident said this event strengthens the Endangered Species Act. "First, the protection afforded by the act worked,” Dunne said. "Second, our recognition of this success and diminished need for continued support for this species under the law means that environmentalists want the powers of the Endangered Species Act to be fairly, accurately, legitimately as well as forcefully applied.”