Seven years after the government said the fierce raptor is no longer threatened with extinction, officials finally have a plan for removing it from the endangered species list.
Officials said Monday's action could lead to the bald eagle coming off the endangered species list within the next year or so.
"Should the eagle be delisted, we expect that the public will notice little change in how eagles are managed and protected," said H. Dale Hall, the Fish and Wildlife Service's director.
Hall said at least 7,066 known nesting pairs now exist in the contiguous United States. The bald eagle's territory stretches over much of the North American continent. Tens of thousands more live in Alaska and Canada, where their existence never was imperiled.
However, 43 years ago, there were just 417 known nesting pairs left in the lower 48 states, mainly because of the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides that weakened the bald eagle's eggshells and reduced its birth rate. The brown-bodied bird with the distinctive white head and tail also suffered from lead poisoning _ eating waterfowl pierced by a hunter's lead shot.
In 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle was declared an endangered species in the lower 48. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for most uses.
Fish and Wildlife officials in 1978 listed the bald eagle as endangered in 43 states and threatened in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. The government hatched detailed recovery plans, with specific population and reproduction goals. Sometimes eggs were imported from Canada and installed at artificial eyries.
By 1995, the species had rebounded enough to be reclassified as threatened throughout the lower 48.
If and when the bald eagle is removed from the endangered list, two other laws will continue to protect it: the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, later revised to include the golden eagle. But those don't address habitat.