History of the American Bald Eagle..

In 1766 the Bald Eagle was first described as Falco leucocephalus, 1897 Townsend identified the northern Bald Eagle as Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus. The Bald Eagle ranged throughout North America except extreme northern Alaska and Canada and central and southern Mexico. Bald Eagles nested on both coasts from Florida to Baja California, in the south, and from Labrador to the western Aleutian Islands, Alaska, in the north. In many of these areas they were abundant.

When Europeans first arrived on the North American continent, there were an estimated one-quarter to one-half million bald eagles. The first decline in the bald eagle population probably began in the mid to late 1800′s at the same time other species such as of waterfowl, shorebirds and other major prey species were declining. Direct eagle killing was also prevalent, and, coupled with loss of nesting habitat, these factors reduced bald eagle numbers until the 1940′s.

In 1940, the Bald Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668) was passed. This law prohibits the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit. Take includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, or molest or disturb.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act and increased public awareness of the bald eagle resulted in a partial recovery or a slower decline of the species in most areas of the country. However, persecution continued, notably in Alaska, which was exempted from the Bald Eagle Protection Act and maintained a bounty on bald eagles. In 1952, after lengthy studies demonstrated that bald eagles were not affecting salmon numbers, Alaska was no longer exempted.

Shortly after World War II, the use of dichloro-diphenyl- trichloroethane or better known as (DDT) and other organochlorine compounds became widespread. Initially, DDT was sprayed extensively along coastal and other wetland areas to control mosquitos (Carson 1962). Later it was used as a general insecticide. As DDT accumulated in individual bald eagles from ingesting contaminated food, the species’ reproduction plummeted. In the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, it was determined that dichlorophenyl-dichloroethylene (DDE), the principal breakdown product of DDT, accumulated in the fatty tissues of the adult females and impaired calcium release that is necessary for egg shell formation, thus inducing thin shells and reproductive failure.

In response to the decline following World War II, the Secretary of the Interior, on March 11, 1967 (32 FR 4001) listed bald eagles south of the 40th parallel as endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. The northern bald eagle was not included in that action primarily because the Alaskan and Canadian populations were not considered endangered in 1967. On December 31, 1972, DDT was banned from use in the United States.

In 1973, the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) was passed. Among other provisions, it allowed the listing of distinct populations of animal species and the addition of a new category of “threatened.” The Act defines an endangered species as a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is defined as any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

A nationwide bald eagle survey by the Service and a number of other agencies and conservation groups in 1974 revealed that, in parts of the northern half of the lower 48 States, bald eagle populations and reproductive success were lower than in certain southern areas. In 1978, the Service listed the bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (no subspecies referenced) throughout the lower 48 States as endangered except in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon, where it was designated as threatened (43 FR 6233, February 14, 1978).

Restoring endangered and threatened animals and plants to the point where they are again viable, self-sustaining members of their ecosystems is the main goal of the Endangered Species Act. Thus, the Act contains recovery, as well as listing and protection, provisions. To effect recovery, section 4(f) of the Act provides for the development and implementation of recovery plans for listed species. According to the Act, a recovery plan is a plan for the conservation and survival of the species. It identifies, describes, and schedules the actions necessary to restore endangered and threatened species to a more secure biological condition.

In establishing a recovery program for the species in the mid- 1970′s, the Service divided the bald eagles of the lower 48 States into five recovery regions, based on geographic location. A recovery plan was prepared for each region by separate recovery teams composed of species experts in each geographic area. The teams set forth goals for recovery and identified tasks to achieve those goals. Coordination meetings were held regularly among the five teams to exchange data and other information. The five recovery regions and the dates of their approved recovery plans are as follows: Chesapeake Bay (1982, revised 1990), Pacific (1986), Southeastern (1984, revised 1989), Northern States (1983), and Southwestern (1982). The Northern States plan is under revision and is expected to be available for public review within the next six months. Many of the tasks described within these recovery plans have been funded and carried out by the Service and other Federal, State, and private organizations. Annual expenditures for the recovery and protection of the bald eagle by public and private agencies have exceeded $1 million each year for the past decade (Service files).

In the 17 years since it was listed throughout the conterminous 48 States, the bald eagle population has clearly increased in number and expanded in range. The improvement is a direct result of the banning of DDT and other persistent organochlorines, habitat protection, and from other recovery efforts. In 1963, a National Audubon Society survey reported only 417 active nests in the lower 48 States, with an average of 0.59 young produced per active nest. In 1994, about 4,450 occupied breeding areas were reported by the States with an estimated average young per occupied territory (for 4110 territories) of 1.17. Compared to 1974, the number of occupied breeding areas in the lower 48 States has increased by 462 percent, and since 1990, there has been a 47 percent increase. The species is doubling its breeding population every 6-7 years since the late 1970′s.

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