Bald Eagles Soar Off Endangered Species List, But Will Act Be Weakened?

June 28, 2007

The bald eagle has rebounded from the brink of extinction, U.S. officials say, and in an announcement this morning the government removed it from the list of federally protected species.

Conservationists heralded the eagle's recovery as a success story that proves the U.S. Endangered Species Act works, but they voiced concern that the Supreme Court has weakened the act with rulings it made earlier this week.

Michael Daulton, director of conservation policy for the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C., called the eagle's recovery "one of the greatest achievements for conservation in American history."

There were just 417 nesting pairs in 1963.

Vast habitat protections and a ban on the insecticide DDT are primarily responsible for the eagle population boom, which has brought the bird's numbers to nearly 10,000 nesting pairs today, he noted.

To the Brink and Back

At the turn of the 20th century, the bird of prey—and the U.S. national symbol—was hunted and its habitat logged as humans migrated west, explained Nicholas Throckmorton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C.

The service oversees the U.S. Endangered Species Act and made the delisting announcement this morning.

Concerned about dwindling populations, Congress in 1940 passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it illegal to shoot at, kill, or poison the birds.

"The eagles did go up from the time that act was passed until DDT came on the scene," Throckmorton said.

The insecticide, widely used in the 1950s and '60s, accumulated in the food chain and caused birds of prey to lay eggs with thinned eggshells, which hindered reproduction and brought the eagle population to its lowest point.

DDT was banned in 1972, and the eagles began to recover. Congress passed a precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967. The modern act was enacted in 1973, and the bald eagle was among the first hundred or so species to be protected.

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