Bald eagle to be taken off list of endangered species

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The Independent US

Forty years after it was threatened with extinction in the wild, the American bald eagle has made a phenomenal recovery, according to new data which suggests that the bird - America's national emblem - can now be found in all but two of the country's 50 states.

Forty years after it was threatened with extinction in the wild, the American bald eagle has made a phenomenal recovery, according to new data which suggests that the bird - America's national emblem - can now be found in all but two of the country's 50 states.

According to conservationists there are now 7,678 nesting pairs nationally and the species is absent only in Rhode Island and Vermont. The recovery has been such that federal authorities plan to delist the bald eagle from a register of endangered species.

"The population growth where we are has been phenomenal." said Professor Bryan Watts, the director of the centre for conservation biology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. "In our state, over the last 28 years we have seen the numbers grow from 33 breeding pairs to 450." Only five years ago, Virginia's total was just 260 pairs.

Experts largely attribute the recovery to the restriction on the use of pesticides such as DDT which weakened the birds' eggshells. Virginia now has more nesting pairs than the entire country did in 1963 when the prevalence of such pesticides had taken the numbers to an all-time low. Another factor appears to have been the bird's ability to co-exist alongside humans. There was plenty of evidence, said Professor Watts, of eagles living close to humans in the Cheasepeake Bay area.

The Department of the Interior's fish and wildlife service is now planning to remove the bald eagle from its list of endangered species, which currently identifies 1,288 species as endangered or threatened . In an interview with The New York Times, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife, David Smith, said it was anticipated that a consultative paper on delisting would be issued this summer. "If the numbers bear out we hope to get to the final delisting by the end of the year," he said.

The bald eagle, which was formally adopted as the nation's emblem in 1782, will remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

Activists say it is still important to remove the bird from the federal endangered list to show that the Endangered Species Act has been successful. Since the act was passed in 1973, a total of 30 species have been taken off the list: of these 13 recovered, while the rest are now considered extinct.

Michael Bean, of the group Environment Defence, said: "It has clearly recovered. Its recovery needs to be recognised with a delisting."

But there are still concerns for the future of the bald eagle. Professor Watts said that in parts of Virginia, the growth in human numbers matched the ten-fold increase he had witnessed in the eagle population and that it was unclear how well the bird would fare alongside such dense numbers. "Our concern is not about the next five to ten years," he said. "We are thinking about 20, 30, 50 years from now. No one knows how it is going to play out."

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