Bald eagle no longer ‘threatened’

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Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne yesterday announced the removal of the bald eagle from the list of “threatened” species, a move that President Bush called “a wonderful way to celebrate this Fourth of July” holiday.

“Today I am proud to announce, the eagle has returned,” Mr. Kempthorne said at a morning press conference at the Jefferson Memorial, one day before a court-ordered deadline for deciding whether to keep the bird on the list, under the Endangered Species Act.

“After years of careful study, public comment and planning, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are confident in the future security of the American bald eagle,” Mr. Kempthorne said.

About 10,000 pairs of bald eagles are estimated to be nesting or breeding in the continental U.S., with the largest concentration being in the Southeast, compared to fewer than 500 in 1963. The bird has always been plentiful in Canada and Alaska.

In a statement, Mr. Bush called credited cooperation between private landowners and federal and state governments for the bird’s resurgence.

“This great conservation achievement means more and more Americans across the nation will enjoy the thrill of seeing bald eagles soar,” he said.

The event celebrating the recovery of the national bird was filled with patriotic symbolism, including an American Indian blessing, the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a finale featuring a rescued bald eagle named Challenger flying to the shore of the Potomac.

Animal conservationists see the eagle’s recovery as a vindication of the Endangered Species Act, which covered the bird that Thomas Jefferson suggested be used as the U.S. national symbol.

Although no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle will continue to have a protected status under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act from the 1940s, which says a person may not “kill, harass, possess (without permit) or sell bald eagles, including their parts, nests or eggs.” The birds will also be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The government also has a “post-delisting monitoring plan” for the bald eagle, with the first monitoring period from late 2008 through winter 2009 and the results and assessment scheduled for five years later.

The eagle was first marked as “endangered” in 1967, just before the Endangered Species List existed, as a result of a collapsing population in the continental U.S. from widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which prevented the birds’ eggs from hatching. In 1995, the bald eagle was taken off “endangered” status to “threatened,” an indication the species was recovering but not out of the woods.

Mr. Kempthorne said he hopes to hold more events to mark the successful comeback of some of the more than 1,300 species on the endangered species list.

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