Eagle de-listing a mistake, officials say
In spite of the substantial recovery of bald eagles since the 1960s, biologists are arguing against the federal plan to remove the eagle from the Endangered Species List.
September 27, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT)
When the bald eagle was proposed for removal from the Endangered Species List in July, some called it an "American success story". But in spite of the substantial recovery of eagles since the 1960s, biologists from Virginia are arguing against the federal plan.
The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the union except Hawaii. When America adopted the bird as its national symbol in 1782, as many as half a million nesting bald eagles lived in the continental United States. Nevertheless, the eagle's emblematic status did little to protect it from persecution by farmers, ranchers and hunters who viewed the eagle as a threat to their livestock.
Coupled with loss of nesting habitat, eagle populations were significantly reduced until 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, prohibiting killing or selling of bald eagles.
Shortly after World War II, however, the widespread use of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides caused bald eagles to lay thin shelled eggs, which resulted in reproductive failure.
While numbers of the majestic bird
approached zero in the 1960s, today there are an estimated 5,748 pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists and others consider the number a healthy population count, worthy of moving the bald eagle off the list of threatened and endangered species. Nevertheless, others argue that the recovery trend will reverse.
At a public hearing on the eagle de-listing in Virginia this past week, 23 people, representing more than 100,000 Americans, spoke out against removing the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List.
"Due to excellent management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state management agencies and others, as well as the removal of DDT and other contaminants from the environment, the mortality rates were reduced and reproductive rates increased," said Jim Fraser, a biologist who has been studying bald eagles for 25 five years. "My big concern is that eagle habitat is not adequately protected," he said.
In the Chesapeake Bay area, federal laws to protect the eagle would expire when the eagle is removed from the list. Fraser says habitat issues are not properly addressed under the eagle's current preservation status as threatened.
"Sixty percent of the Chesapeake shoreline is already too developed for eagles," he said. Further reducing the eagle's protection status could be devastating, he said.
"What is happening over large areas of the eagle's range, is that the carrying capacity of the shoreline is being reduced [due to human development]. Some of the counties on the Chesapeake Bay, for example, are growing at 2 percent per year." At this rate, in 25 years all of the habitat will be gone, Fraser warns. He also points out that only two breeding pairs have been recorded in the densely populated state of Connecticut.
Fraser explains that bald eagles for the most part require "undisturbed forested shoreline." The raptors' habitat includes estuaries, large lakes, reservoirs, major rivers, and some seacoast areas. These areas must have an adequate food base, perching areas, and nesting sites in order to support the species. "Due to their heavy wings, it is not energetically feasible for eagles to hunt without perches that allow them to look down into the water," he said.
Bald eagles require undisturbed forested shoreline for their survival.
Bryan Watts, a biologist from William and Mary also spoke at the Virginia hearing. "Our main concern is the long term viability of the population. It has been a spectacular recovery but it is clear that it is not at all secure in terms of habitat."
"De-listing is premature at this time because the Fish and Wildlife Service has made no attempt to access the current availability and the continued availability of breeding habitat," Watts said. "The second provision of the Fish and Wildlife recovery plan requires that habitat be protected for the current number of eagles in perpetuity. If we don't confront the issue we will be back to square one in 20 years."
Watts points out that the federal government has spent approximately one million dollars a year on eagle recovery since the Bald Eagle was added to the Endangered Species list in 1973.
Written comments on the Bald Eagle de-listing should be sent to: Jody Gustitus Millar,
Bald Eagle Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
4469-48th Avenue Court, Rock Island, IL 61202. Comments may also be
sent through the Fish and Wildlife Service web site or via
telephone (309)793-5800 ext. 524. All comments must be received by
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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