May 10, 2006

Endangered Species Day

flap20.jpgNest Update: Our two eaglets are 11 weeks old this week. We're still waiting for the first flight, but each day the eaglets seem to spend more time near the edge, sometimes with their wings spread. If we see a missing eaglet, we'll make the announcement on the cam page.

On another eagle topic, I wanted to give an update on Martha -- the female bald eagle that was injured at her nest near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Maryland. Fortunately, she was released in Delaware on Saturday. You can see a photo of Martha and read about her release on the TriState Bird Rescue website. Much thanks to TriState for their great work in saving Martha from her serious injuries.

And I also wanted to post the latest photos from Jerry McKenna, our eagle photographer friend from Illinois, who is watching a one-chick eagle nest in his home state. The first photo shows the rapidly growing eaglet admiring the flying skills of the adult. The second photo shows the remains of a turtle appetizer that the family enjoyed. The third photo shows how big the eaglet has become. And the fourth photo shows the cute eaglet being bothered by a pesky bee. Much thanks to Jerry for his amazing photography.

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May 11, 2006 --
Endangered Species Day:

The U.S. Senate recently designated May 11, 2006, “Endangered Species Day." This is America’s first national celebration of its commitment to protecting endangered species.

The reason this event was needed is because certain politicians in Congress are attempting to severely weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and eliminate provisions that protect critical wildlife habitat. So Senators created this day to raise awareness about the success of the ESA and the need to protect species in our rapidly developing world.

For three decades, the Endangered Species Act has kept 99% of listed species from going extinct, but of all the species saved by the ESA, perhaps none is as famous or as beloved as the American bald eagle. In fact, the bald eagle has recovered so well that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is now proposing that the bald eagle no longer be protected by the ESA, and they are taking public comments on this proposal until May 17, 2006. So I wanted to talk a little about what delisting means for our precious bald eagles.

How the Eagles Got into Trouble:

Bald eagles started to decline in the late 1800s mainly due to shooting, prey destruction, and habitat destruction. Then in the late 1940s, the pesticide DDT was sprayed extensively along coastal and other wetland areas to control mosquitoes. Unfortunately, DDT contaminated the fish that the eagles ate, and soon the pesticide accumulated in the eagles' fatty tissues and began to inhibit calcium production. This in turn led to thin eggshells that broke when the eagle parents sat on them. In 1972, DDT was banned from use in the U.S., but by then eagle populations were in serious trouble. So in 1978, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bald eagle as "endangered" (under the Endangered Species Act) in 43 of the contiguous states, and "threatened" in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington. (The bald eagle has never been endangered or threatened in Alaska and has never lived in Hawaii.)

How the Eagles Recovered:

pgceagle.jpgThe habitat protection provided by the Endangered Species Act, combined with the banning of DDT, helped bald eagles on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, DDT's dissipation from the food chain was very slow, so the recovery was not immediate, but over time -- with the help of the USFWS, environmental groups, local governments, corporations, universities, tribes, and concerned individuals -- the eagles made enough of a recovery that in 1995, the bald eagle was reclassified as "threatened" in the remaining 43 states where it had been "endangered."

Today, the USFWS reports that the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states has increased from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to an estimated 7,066 nesting pairs in 2005. The USFWS is now declaring the bald eagle "recovered."

A Delisted Bald Eagle:

So now the big question is: Can the bald eagle prosper without the ESA's protection? The strength of the ESA -- and what makes it different from other wildlife laws -- is that it protects critical habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife, because without a safe home, a species cannot survive.

Bald eagles are generally known to be very sensitive to human disturbance, and sometimes will abandon nests and eggs if spooked by humans. The ESA helped the eagle by protecting it from disturbance on shoreline and waterfront habitats where eagles need to live, but where humans like to play, develop, and log.

If the eagle is delisted, protection of the bald eagle will fall to two laws that are currently on the books: The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Both acts protect bald eagles by prohibiting killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, and eggs.

However, a controversy has arisen because some experts and environmental groups do not believe that these two laws will be enough to protect eagle habitat because habitat protection is not the goal of either law. In response to this concern, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now published voluntary National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, which are intended to provide information to people who engage in recreation or land use activities that might impact eagles.

In addition, the USFWS is also proposing a regulation to clarify the term "disturb" as it relates to eagles under the BGEPA. Now "disturb" will be defined as actions that disrupt the breeding, feeding, or sheltering practices of an eagle, causing injury, death or nest abandonment. Although the USFWS has accepted this definition of "disturb" for some time, now the Service will officially codify it.

If delisting occurs, the USFWS will continue to work with state wildlife agencies to monitor the status of the bald eagle for a minimum of five years after its delisting, as is required by the Endangered Species Act. However, this monitoring can become more difficult in tight fiscal times like we have now.

The USFWS has stated that if monitoring shows that the bald eagle is faltering in its recovery, they can begin the process of putting it back on the endangered and threatened species list, but that could take time.

wdeagleStates that list the bald eagle as endangered or threatened within their own boundaries can continue to do so after the delisting; however, experts predict that once the bald eagle is delisted at the federal level, many state governments will follow suit at the local level and remove it from their own lists.

On the positive side, eagle behavior has been slowly changing as the raptors spend more time near humans. Now we are seeing more eagles that are willing to nest near humans and even in human-made structures. But not all eagles are this comfortable around people, and birds in more pristine areas are likely to remain highly sensitive to encroachment.

What You Can Do:

Until May 17, 2006, the USFWS is taking public comments on three items: The delisting of the bald eagle, the proposed National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, and the proposed definition of the term "disturb." The Service wants and needs the input of all American citizens who have an opinion or who have information about bald eagles that will help the Service make the right choices in their actions.

On the USFWS Eagle Delisting web page you can find more information about the delisting proposal, the management guidelines, and the "disturb" action. You can also find out how to send your comments via email.

The fact that we have reached a point where the bald eagle can even be considered for delisting is a true testament to the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act and its ability to protect precious wildlife and their habitat. But we must be sure that we are removing the bald eagle for the right reasons, and we must be sure we will have a system in place to continue protecting the birds even after they are out of the jurisdiction of the Endangered Species Act.

America's national symbol deserves no less.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at May 10, 2006 06:12 PM