How the bald ea­gle soared again

Re­turn of the Bald Ea­gle from en­dan­gered/near ex­tinct sta­tus in the U.S.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito Sommaire -


The bald ea­gle: a rare eco­log­i­cal suc­cess story in the United States.

The sea ea­gle, also known as the “bald ea­gle” due to its white head, em­blem of the United States, was con­sid­ered near ex­tinc­tion in the 1960s. Since then, thanks to a se­ries of long term con­ser­va­tion mea­sures put in place, the species is no longer en­dan­gered. Ar­ti­cle on a rare eco­log­i­cal suc­cess story.

An avian stalker fol­lows the course of a shal­low river in Wis­con­sin. The river’s edge is wooded; fish oc­ca­sion­ally leap from the water. With a beat of its dark wings, a bald ea­gle

1. avian stalker a bird watcher / course di­rec­tion, route / shal­low not deep / edge side, bor­der, bank / to leap, leaped or leapt, leaped or leapt from to jump out of / beat flap, move­ment / wing part of the body of a bird/ in­sect that it uses for fly­ing / glides along, its head white in the early au­tumn sun­shine. Tourists wit­ness­ing the ma­jes­tic sight might be­lieve they are see­ing some­thing rare. They are not. The bird, Amer­ica’s na­tional sym­bol, was driven al­most to ex­tinc­tion in the 1960s, but its pop­u­la­tion is soar­ing again. In June 2007 fed­eral of­fi­cials said it no longer even counts as an en­dan­gered species. Its re­cov­ery is a dra­matic en­vi­ron­men­tal suc­cess. What made bald ea­gles great again?


2. The ea­gle’s fall was dra­matic. By one es­ti­mate Amer­ica had some 100,000 nest­ing pairs in 1782, when it was cho­sen as the na­tional sym­bol be­cause of its ev­i­dent free­dom and strength. (Ben­jamin Franklin lamented the choice, though, de­scrib­ing the ea­gle as a bird of “bad moral char­ac­ter. He does not get his liv­ing hon­estly.”) Within a cen­tury its num­bers had plum­meted.

3. The rea­sons were var­i­ous. Set­tlers cleared the nest­ing habi­tats and wa­ter­ways that were home to wa­ter­fowl and other prey. Farm­ers saw the birds as de­struc­tive scavenger-preda­tors and hunted them. (They did have some grounds for com­plaint: a farmer of free-range chick­ens in Ge­or­gia, for ex­am­ple, blames bald ea­gles on his prop­erty for killing stock worth mil­lions of dol-

lars over re­cent years.) And the birds were poi­soned by ac­ci­dent, be­cause they scav­enged smaller birds that had al­ready been filled with lead shot by hunters. By 1940 Congress noted that the ea­gles faced prob­a­ble ex­tinc­tion, and passed an act that for­bade peo­ple to do them any harm. By 1963 only 487 nest­ing pairs sur­vived in main­land Amer­ica, though Alaska had a health­ier pop­u­la­tion.


4. By a decade or so ago, how­ever, nearly 10,000 nest­ing pairs were thought to be in the con­tigu­ous United States. The na­tional to­tal is prob­a­bly sub­stan­tially higher to­day, though in places like Ver­mont state rules still count the bird as threat- ened. The 1940 law no doubt helped with the re­cov­ery. Laws or­der­ing a great ex­pan­sion of pro­tected nat­u­ral ar­eas, such as na­tional and state parks, pro­tected more habi­tat. Most im­por­tant, how­ever, was the ban­ning of DDT. This chem­i­cal was used as a pes­ti­cide to con­trol mosquitoes and other pests, es­pe­cially in the early post-war years, and posed one of the gravest threats to the bald ea­gle’s sur­vival. DDT that the ea­gles ab­sorbed from con­tam­i­nated fish weak­ened the shells of their eggs and lim­ited re­pro­duc­tion (other birds, such as brown pel­i­cans, were also af­fected). In 1972 the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) banned the use of DDT, and the bird’s re­cov­ery since then has been strong. 5. Given threats to the ac­tions of the EPA from the cur­rent Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion, that suc­cess is worth re­call­ing. No­body is se­ri­ously propos­ing a re­turn to the wide­spread use of DDT in Amer­ica, though oc­ca­sional wor­ries about mos­quito-borne dis­eases, such as Zika or the West Nile virus, pro­voke ques­tions on do­ing so. Get­ting the ea­gle back was a vic­tory that Amer­i­cans of any po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion could cel­e­brate: it came about be­cause of­fi­cials em­ployed a sci­en­tific ap­proach to un­der­stand­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal threat, then im­ple­mented reg­u­la­tions to limit harm done by hu­mans to na­ture.

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