The National Audubon Society says "citizen science confirms the wisdom of an historic action" that federal officials will formalize today - removal of the bald eagle from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
The nation's oldest bird conservation organization says bald eagle sightings in its century-old Christmas Bird Count reveal that eagle populations are steadily climbing in the lower 48 states.
The population of bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, in the lower 48 states is now 11,040 pairs. This is a nearly 1,300 pair increase from the 2006 estimate of 9,789 pairs, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
"The rescue of the bald eagle from the brink of extinction ranks among the greatest victories of American conservation," said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society.
"Like no other species, the bald eagle showed us all that environmental stewardship has priceless rewards," Flicker said. "In every state, parents and grandparents can still point to the sky and share a moment of wonder as a bald eagle soars overhead."
A bald eagle soars over northeastern New Mexico. (Photo courtesy Harding County, New Mexico)
"All Americans have reason to be proud. Our nation?s symbol, the bald eagle is once again thriving," said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy. "The conservation of the Bald Eagle is a true success story and a reflection of the concern Americans have for the environment. We strongly support delisting the eagle."
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials announced in March that they had confirmed the first known bald eagle nest in Philadelphia County in more than 200 years.
Although the bald eagle is America's national symbol, eagles were hunted and poisoned until the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940. By this time, only a small population remained, and eagles had completely disappeared from many states.
By 1963, only 417 pairs of bald eagles remained in the lower 48 states.
Then, widespread use of the pesticide DDT caused the remaining populations outside of Alaska to plummet. The birds were bio-accumulating the pesticides through prey consumption. DDT made the shells of eagle eggs so brittle, they broke when sat upon.
Congress banned most uses of DDT in 1972 and the eagle began to rebound.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped up efforts to protect habitat and reintroduce eagles in areas where they had been extirpated. In 1995, eagles had recovered to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed their status from endangered to threatened.
A bald eagle pair tends their chick. (Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Game Commission)
The Audubon counts show that over a 40 year period from 1967 to 2006, bald eagle sightings have gone up nine fold and increased an average of six percent per year every year.
The top five states with the largest increases in eagle numbers are Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Vermont and Michigan - all had at least a 13 fold increase over 40 years.
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and the heads of several conservation organizations are holding a ceremony and news conference this morning on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC to annouce the removal of the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List.
But in the midst of celebration, controversy persists.
After delisting, the bald eagle will remain under federal protection through the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act as well as state laws.
But planned Bush administration regulations may allow developers and other parties to disrupt bald eagle nests. Audubon advocates tighter regulations that would limit the ease with which these permits may be granted.
In addition, the Endangered Species Act, which was instrumental in recovering the bald eagle, remains a target of pro-development interests and their allies in the Bush administration.
The administration is expected to introduce regulations soon that would weaken the Act's ability to protect species and their habitat. The effort follows years ofattacks on this law prior to the change in Congressional leadership in 2007.
"The Endangered Species Act works," said Fenwick. "Because of this safety net, a flourishing legacy of bald eagles can be passed on to future generations."
For a fact sheet on Natural History, Ecology, and History of Recovery of the Bald Eagle, click here.