Bald eagle soaring off endangered list

Delisting of national bird could happen within the next year

Tuesday, February 14, 2006; Posted: 12:01 p.m. EST (17:01 GMT)


"The recovery of the bald eagle, our national symbol, is also a great national success story," said H. Dale Hall.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The bald eagle, the national bird depicted on the Great Seal of the United States carrying arrows and an olive branch, is a step closer to coming off the endangered species list.

The Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service issued draft voluntary guidelines Monday that spell out how landowners, land managers and others should protect the bird once it no longer is safeguarded by the 1973 law. The majestic, white-headed eagle has been on the list for decades because of loss of habitat eating animal flesh that contained now-banned DDT pesticide.

The guidelines also proposed prohibitions on "disturbing" the bald eagle, which could include anything that would disrupt its breeding, feeding or sheltering or cause injury, death or nest abandonment.

The administration of former President Bill Clinton proposed removing the eagle from the endangered species list in 1999. The delisting has required far longer than the typical year, partly because updated counts are required from each of the states, some of which have their own rules that add to red tape.

Officials said Monday's action could lead to the bald eagle coming off the endangered species 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.

He 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 in the 48 states between Canada and Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico. Its main killer had been 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 hunter's lead shot.

So in 1967, under a law that preceded the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the fierce raptor was officially declared an endangered species in the lower 48 states. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for almost all uses.

By 1995, the species had rebounded enough to be reclassified as threatened throughout the lower 48.

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