American bald eagle to be removed from threatened species list

KEYWORDS: american bald eagle habitat endangered species threatened species bald eagle legislation national icon US official bird DDT

The American bald eagle – the national symbol whose decline helped spur the Endangered Species Act and a ban on the pesticide DDT – will be off the threatened species list this year, a top Bush administration official promised Saturday. Craig Manson, the administration’s point man on the Endangered Species Act, agreed with a leading environmental group that said it’s time to concentrate recovery efforts on other, more needy species.

The Interior Department will outline its plans this summer after taking public testimony on how best to safeguard the bird while recognizing that its population has significantly recovered, said Manson, the department’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

“That species is our national icon, and even though it may be delisted under the ESA it would remain protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act,” Mason said. “It’s no longer endangered, but it’s still deserving of special protection.”

Once common across North America, the bald eagle was reduced to just 417 known breeding pairs in the continental United States by 1963. Its habitat was being destroyed as the nation grew, ranchers shot it as a danger to sheep, and widespread use of pesticides after World War II thinned egg shells and caused a crash in the eagles’ birth rate.

Recovery efforts began with the Bald Eagle Protection Act and by 1978 the bird was listed as endangered in 43 states and threatened in five others. In 1995, the species was reclassified as threatened throughout the lower 48 states.

Today there are more than 7,678 breeding pairs in the contiguous United States, leading the group Environmental Defense to call on President Bush this week to “make history” by removing the bird from the federal list.

The delisting process began 4-1/2 years ago and it taking far longer than the typical year because the eagle’s range is so wide. Nesting pairs must be recounted in each state, and the government’s plan must take into account differing protections enacted by individual states.

The delay stretches back to the Clinton administration, Manson said, but earlier this year the administration began the final steps to complete the process by year’s end.

“There were some legal issues that had to be worked out, we’ve worked them out, we figured out how to do it,” Manson said before delivering the commencement address at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Manson is a 1981 graduate and taught at the school from 1993 to 2001.

In a letter to Environmental Defense this week, Interior Secretary Gale Norton also endorsed the group’s new “Back from the Brink” program, which calls for working cooperatively with private landowners to rescue 15 endangered species in 20 states within 10 years.

The effort comes as debate rages over the effectiveness and future of the Endangered Species Act.

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