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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Delisting the Bald Eagle


The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), our national bird, is the only eagle unique to North America. The bald eagle's scientific name signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. At one time, the word "bald" meant "white," not hairless.

There are two subspecies of bald eagles. The "southern" bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus, is found in the Gulf States from Texas and Baja California across to South Carolina and Florida. The "northern" bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus, is found north of 40 degrees north latitude across the entire continent.

The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940, when Congress passed the predecessor to the Bald Eagle Protection Act. The Act, which was later, amended to include golden eagles, increased public awareness of the bald eagle. Soon after, populations stabilized or increased in most areas of the country. However, declines in its numbers during later decades caused the bald eagle to be protected in 1967 under the Federal law preceding the current Endangered Species Act.

The legal protections given the species, along with a crucial decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of the pesticide DDT in 1972, provided the springboard for the Service and its partners to accelerate the pace of recovery through captive breeding programs, reintroduction, law enforcement efforts, protection of habitat around nest sites during the breeding season and land purchase and preservation.

The success of these efforts resulted in the recovery of the species to the point that in 1995 its listing status was changed from endangered to threatened in most states in the continental U.S. - with the exception of Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, where it was always designated as threatened. The species was never listed as threatened or endangered in Alaska.

The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the Union except Hawaii. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48. Since the delisting proposal in 1999, recovery of the bald eagle has continued to progress at an impressive rate. In 2000, the last year a national bald eagle census was conducted, there were an estimated 6471 nesting pairs of bald eagles.

Today this number has risen to an estimated 7,066 nesting pairs, due to recovery efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, conservation organizations, universities, corporations and thousands of individual Americans. Five regional recovery plans were created for the bald eagle. The delisting criteria for all five plans were met or exceeded by the year 2000.

If the bald eagle is delisted, the Service will work with state wildlife agencies to monitor the status of the species for a minimum of five years, as required by the Endangered Species Act. A draft monitoring plan is expected to be released for public comment should the species be delisted. If at any time it becomes evident that the bald eagle again needs the Act's protection, the Service will propose to relist the species.

The Services re-opening of the public comment period on the proposed delisting, the draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and the proposed definition of term "disturb" will be published in the Federal Register.

The Service is also proposing a regulation to clarify the term "disturb" under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that is consistent with existing Federal and State interpretation. Under the clarification, "disturb" would be defined as actions that disrupt the breeding, feeding or sheltering practices of an eagle, causing injury, death or nest abandonment. This is the standard the Service has used informally over the years and how states have interpreted the statute. The proposed regulation defining "disturb" would codify it. This definition will provide clarity to the public while continuing protection for bald eagles, which will help ensure an almost seamless transition from ESA listing to delisting.

Even if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes the bald eagle from the "threatened" species list, it will still be protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act prohibits the take, transport, sale, barter, trade, import and export, and possession of eagles, making it illegal for anyone to collect eagles and eagle parts, nests, or eggs without a permit. Possession of a feather or other body parts of a bald eagle is a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment, although federally recognized Native Americans are able to possess these emblems which are traditional in their culture.

Comments on the proposed delisting, draft National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and draft definition of the term "disturb" must be received by May 17, 2006.


Click here to visit the Services new bald eagle website.


Some of the text and the images are from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is in the Public Domain.

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2 Comments:

  • At Friday, 10 March, 2006, Blogger Sandra Bennett said…

    Bald eagles are fabulous. I'll sit for hours and watch them work the wind currents over my pasture. Lovely reading, Dennis.

     
  • At Friday, 10 March, 2006, Blogger Leslie Shelor said…

    We don't see eagles here, yet. But sometimes I wonder why they keep taking animals off the endangered list; our whole ecosystem seems to be endangered!

     

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