Bald Eagle Removed from Endangered Species List
The bald eagle, one of the first species to receive protections under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967, has been removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced the delisting of the bald eagle at a ceremony on Thursday, June 28, 2007, on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. After decades of conservation efforts, the bald eagle has exhibited a dramatic recovery, from a low of barely 400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963, to nearly 10,000 nesting pairs today. The recovery and delisting of the nation's symbol marks a major achievement in conservation.
The final delisting rule published in the Federal Register on July 9, 2007, and becomes effective 30 days later, on August 8, 2007. Upon delisting, the Service will continue to work with State wildlife agencies to monitor eagles for at least 5 years, as required by the Endangered Species Act. If at any time it appears that the bald eagle again needs the Act’s protection, the Service can propose to relist the species. The Service has developed a draft monitoring plan that is currently available for public review and comment. The notice of availabiity of the draft post-delisting monitoring plan for the bald eagle also published in the Federal Register on July 9, 2007; comments must be received on or before October 9, 2007.
The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940, under what later became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The eagle was later given additional protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Soon after passage of the Eagle Act, populations stabilized or increased in most areas of the country. However, the eagle population fell into steep decline in later decades, due primarily to widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. DDT accumulated in eagles and caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells, decimating the eagle population across the nation. Concerns about the bald eagle resulted in its protection in 1967 under the predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. The eagle was one of the original species protected by the ESA when it was enacted in 1973.
The legal protections given the species by these statutes, along with a crucial decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the general use of DDT in 1972, provided the springboard for the Service and its partners to accelerate recovery through captive breeding programs, reintroductions, law enforcement efforts, protection of habitat around nest sites and land purchase and preservation activities. The eagle responded dramatically to these actions. From an all-time low of 417 breeding pairs in 1963, the population in the lower 48 states has grown to a high of 9,789 pairs today. Fortunately, the bald eagle has never needed the protection of the ESA in Alaska, where the population is estimated at between 50,000 and 70,000 birds.
Bald eagles will continue to be protected by the Bald and Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Both Federal laws prohibit the "taking" of eagles -- defined as killing, selling, or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs. The Service is currently accepting public comments on a proposed rule for managed take under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that would establish a permit program to allow a limited take of bald and gold eagles. Any take authorized would be consistent with the purpose and goal of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, ensuring eagle populations remain healthy and sustainable.
For more information about the bald eagle and the Service's delisting guidelines:
USFWS photos, top to bottom: Mike Lockart; Dave Menke; Steve Hillebrand