Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Saving The Symbol

USFWS photo

The Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at endangered species, like our nation's symbol, the Bald Eagle, that have been given a second chance thanks to tough laws, dedicated researchers, and are making their way 'back from the brink.'

The Efforts to safeguard the nation's natural heritage culminated in the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed into law by President Richard Nixon. It requires federal authorities to identify threatened or endangered animal and plant species and to help them recover, often by restricting how their habitats may be used.

In 1782, the Second Continental Congress incorporatedthe bald eagle into the first great seal of the United Statesas a symbol of “supreme power and authority.” Unlike the king’s England, where wildlife was the exclusive property ofroyalty, in this new nation wild animals belonged to all the people.

By the 1930s, the national symbol was in trouble. Bald eagles, once soaring over most of the country by the hundreds of thousands, had plummeted in number to an estimated10,000 pairs by the 1950s.

Hunting, land clearing and accidental poisoning (eagles often ate toxic meat set out by ranchers to kill wolves and other predators) contributed to the decline.

In 1940, Congress jumped to the fore with the Bald Eagle Protection Act that stated, “The bald eagle isno longer a mere bird of biological interest but a symbol ofthe American ideals of freedom.”

But the introduction of DDT in 1945 dealt the animal acritical blow and by 1963, only 417 baldeagle nesting pairs were found in the lower 48.

Today, with about 7,678 pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48, the bird awaits a final OK to be taken off the ESA’s threatened list.

Status: Threatened, awaiting removal from list
Year declared endangered: 1940
Lowest count in lower 48 states: 417 nesting pairs

* Smithsonian Magazine Story
* American Bald Eagle Foundation
* U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Website
* Listen and learn about the Baby Baldies

Endangered Species Act Endangered?

Congress is considering proposed changes to the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act that would get the government out of the business of setting aside critical habitat for threatened plants and animals.

That would eliminate a central element of the landmark law.

An overhaul of the Endangered Species Act, proposed by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was going before the House Resources Committee on Wednesday. Pombo, the committee's chairman, wants his panel to vote on it Thursday and he hopes the full House will consider it next week.

Environmentalists fear that eliminating the government's ability to establish critical habitat would take away a key to species survival.

*Read more in the Washington Post story

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