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Nation’s symbol at risk no more

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What better time than Independence Day to celebrate the symbol of our nation, the bald eagle. By now I'm sure you've heard that the white-headed, majestic bird was removed from the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It's one of the greatest stories in wildlife restoration.

Says the 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."

But did you know there was a time when our national bird was shot by people, even poisoned, until the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940? ABC says around 1940 only a small population remained, and eagles had disappeared completely from many states. Only 43 years ago just a little more than 400 eagle pairs remained in the lower 48 states. Even those were decimated by the unchecked use of the pesticide DDT. The pesticide washed into the waterways and entered the bodies of fish, and whenever an eagle ingested such a fish, it would weaken the composition of the bird's egg shells. Eagles often crushed their own eggs with their weight as they attempted to incubate them.

More than 20 years later — after realizing the population had plummeted — the bald eagle was declared an endangered species. This happened in 1967 under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act. Congress banned most uses of DDT in 1972, and the eagle population began a slow recovery.

It did so well in fact that in 1995 it was removed from the "endangered" category and placed on the less serious "threatened" list. The bald eagle population in the lower 48, including the District of Columbia, now stands at 11,040 pairs.

Whenever I launch my boat in Southern Maryland's Nanjemoy or Mattawoman creeks I see eagles — sometimes as many as 20 to 25 a day. I delight in their late winter aerial courtships; I watch them swoop down over the water and swing their talons across the creek's surface, picking up gizzard shad so large that no osprey could lift them and safely fly off. The brawny eagles have no problem with such things.

The bald eagle is my favorite bird by far. I salute them almost daily from Virginia's King George County across the Potomac River to Maryland clear up to Wilson Bridge. What a joyous sight.

Virus continues killing fish Biologists again are alerting boaters, anglers and fish dealers about a deadly virus that has killed thousands of freshwater fish in and around the Great Lakes. The culprit is viral hemorrhagic septicemia, which has been detected in eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces and affects 39 different species of fish. Several of the affected species are particular favorites of sport anglers and aquaculture operators. They include largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegills and perch. The virus poses no threat to humans or seafood, but it is easily spread among fish and could have a devastating impact on fish populations.

There is no known cure for the virus, which causes bleeding of a fish's tissues, including internal organs.

Anglers and boaters are asked not to move live fish or fish eggs from one body of water to another. They also are asked to refrain from draining all water from bilges, bait buckets, live wells and other containers while leaving boat landings or the shore and to dispose of leftover bait in the garbage — not in lakes or ponds. To clean, wash and disinfect your boat, bilges and all equipment, use a solution of one cup of bleach per 10 gallons of water.

Virginia waterfowl stamp on sale The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is selling its 2007 Virginia State Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamp. The original stamp design was painted by artist Guy Crittenden. It depicts two Canada geese swimming among reeds in the water. This is the second time Crittenden"s work was chosen for Virginia's waterfowl stamp. Ducks Unlimited, under contract with the VDGIF, retains the license for the artwork and will handle the sale of large reproductions of the stamp art. Last year a total of 22,628 Virginia Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamps were sold generating $203,652.

c Look for Gene Mueller"s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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