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Conserving the Nature of America
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Bald Eagle Protection and Recovery
Questions and Answers
Two bald eagle chicks in nest.
Photo by Jeremy Moore; USFWS
When did the bald eagle first gain federal protection?
The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act. It was later amended to include golden eagles and renamed the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The taxonomic family that includes bald eagles gained protection by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972 when the United States and Mexico agreed to a supplement to the migratory bird convention they first signed in 1936. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the law that implements treaties for the protection of shared migratory bird resources signed by the United States with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Russia.
Bald eagles were listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act and later transferred to list of threatened and endangered species under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
What has contributed to the recovery of the bald eagle in the lower 48 states?
The recovery of the bald eagle was a national effort. Two important factors made the recovery of the bald eagle possible, the most critical being the federal government’s ban on the use of DDT in the United States in 1972. Second, the eagle was added to the list of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, which reduced threats to bald eagle habitat, including nesting sites and summer and winter roost sites. In addition, federal and state agencies, tribes, private landowners and others played a vital role in restoring populations by protecting important habitat, reintroducing the bald eagle back into the wild, monitoring species recovery and conducting extensive public education efforts.
What was the population of the bald eagles at the time of delisting?
Bald eagles staged a remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction. According to the 2007 population surveys, the eagle population in the lower 48 states climbed from an all-time low of 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs by 2007, when the bald eagle was delisted.
At the time of delisting, Minnesota topped the list with 1,312 pairs of eagles, followed by Florida with 1,133 pairs and Wisconsin’s 1,065 pairs. Bald eagles also were breeding in the District of Columbia and Vermont, which, until its first eagles hatched successfully in 2006, was the only state in the contiguous U.S. that did not support nesting eagles.
Did the Service have a recovery plan for the bald eagle?
Yes, the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states was divided into five recovery regions, making it easier for the Service to monitor the recovery progress of the eagle. Those regions were the Northern States, Chesapeake Bay, Southeastern, Southwestern and the Pacific Regions. Five separate recovery plans were developed, one for each region.
Since the development and implementation of the recovery plans, the bald eagle’s population growth exceeded most of the goals established in the various plans. Population goals were met and exceeded in the Chesapeake Bay, Northern, Pacific, and Southeastern Recovery Regions. The Southwest recovery plan included goals for downlisting, but not delisting.
|Recovery Region||Delisting Goals||2007 Estimate of Breeding Pairs|
|Chesapeake Bay||300-400 pairs||1,093|
|Southeastern||1,500 breeding areas||2,227|
|Northern States||1,200 breeding areas||4,215|
|Total 3900 pairs + Southwest 9,789 breeding pairs|
How does the Service determine if a species has recovered?
The criteria spelled out in the recovery plans are used as a yardstick to measure whether the species is no longer endangered or threatened. But those factors are not the only criteria. The ESA identifies five threats that the Service must evaluate to determine if delisting is appropriate:
1. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species habitat or range;
2. The over-use of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
3. Disease or predation;
4. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and
5. Any other natural or manmade factors affecting the continued existence of the species.
The Service determines whether recovery has been achieved by reviewing the best available scientific and commercial data available in evaluating the above threats to the species. Recovery plans may set population goals as a measure to indicate whether the threats have been reduced. The Service considers these goals in determining whether the threats have been reduced sufficiently to warrant reclassification of the species, or in this case, delisting.
A species is recovered when it is no longer in danger of extinction, or likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range because the threats that led to the species’ listing have been reduced or eliminated. The bald eagle has met these requirements for removal from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife.
How will we know that the bald eagle population will not decline without the protections of the Endangered Species Act?
Concurrently with the delisting, the Service made a draft post-delisting monitoring plan available and solicited public comment for 90 days.
As required by the Endangered Species Act, the Service will effectively monitor the species in cooperation with the states for a minimum of five years after delisting. The post-delisting monitoring plan provides a solid framework for surveying eagles and documenting eagle success after delisting. The monitoring plan is designed to track the population status of bald eagles in the lower 48 by sampling the number of breeding pairs, similar to the current monitoring methods. The monitoring plan is not intended to monitor causal factors such as circumstances that “disturb” bald eagles or their habitat, a term defined under Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
If, within the designated monitoring period, threats to bald eagles change or unforeseen events change the stability of the population, then it may be relisted under the ESA or the monitoring period may be extended.
How will bald eagles be monitored after they are taken off the list of threatened and endangered species?
The Bald Eagle Post Delisting Monitoring Plan describes are eagles will be monitored. Based on the Plan, the status of the bald eagle will be monitored by collecting data on occupied nests over a 20-year period with sampling events held once every 5 years starting in early 2009. Nest check monitoring conducted by the States over the past years will continue and census of area sample plots will be added. The area sample plots will be selected from eagle habitat across the contiguous 48 States based on known nesting density. The set of known occupied nests (list frame) will be combined with the numbers of newly identified occupied nests from the area plot samples (area frame) to provide a dual frame estimate
The goal is to be able to detect a 25 percent change in occupied bald eagle nests on a national scale at 5 year intervals. If declines are detected, the Service’s Bald Eagle Monitoring Team will work with the state agencies to investigate the cause of decline. Factors to be considered include natural population cycles, weather, productivity, contaminants, habitat changes and other stressors. The result of the investigation will determine if the population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states warrants expanded monitoring, additional research, and/or resumption of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. At the end of the 20 year monitoring program, the Service will conduct a final review.
In addition, information provided to the Bald Eagle Monitoring Team will be reviewed for potential population level impacts such as productivity, mortality, major habitat alterations, contaminants, and weather.
What other laws protect bald eagles?
Bald eagles are protected by two other major federal laws: the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition, state governments can enact state laws that afford more protection than federal laws to conserve wildlife species. Bald eagles may be protected by a state law such as a state endangered species law. Please contact your state fish and wildlife agency to see if your state has laws or management guidelines applicable to eagles.
What are the protections provided by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, barter, purchase, export, or import migratory birds, their parts, nests or eggs, except as permitted by regulation. “Take” is defined under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as “pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, possess, or collect.”
How does the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act protect bald eagles?
The Eagle Act, originally passed in 1940, prohibits the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase, or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit (16U.S.C 668(a); 50 CFR 22). “Take” is defined as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb” a bald or golden eagle. The term “disturb” under the Eagle Act was recently defined via a final rule published in the Federal Register on June 5, 2007 (72 Fed. Reg. 31332). “Disturb” means to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior.
After the Bald Eagle was delisted, new Eagle Act regulations were adopted that allow the Service to issue permits for non-intentional take.
What Future Challenges Do Bald Eagles Face?
Fact Sheet Created June 2007; Revised October 2012