Bald eagle is about to escape the endangered species list

Announcement planned near Fourth of July

June 17, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- The bald eagle is about to soar off the endangered species list.

The majestic national bird was emblematic of how America poisoned its environment when it nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states 35 years ago. Now its recovery symbolizes how the nation can solve its ecological problems, experts said.

With hoopla befitting a national symbol's recovery, the Clinton administration will announce its proposal to take the bald eagle off the critical list on or near the Fourth of July, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said. That will mark the start of a yearlong bureaucratic process to remove the bird from the endangered species list.

"It's entirely appropriate that on the Fourth of July we focus on the symbol of our country in wildlife," said Mark Van Putten, president of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation.

The bald eagle will be the eighth species to recover and escape the endangered species list. The federal government is in the process of delisting the peregrine falcon, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Cindy Hoffman said yesterday. And the agency will propose removing the Aleutian Canada goose later this summer, she said.

Of all the endangered species, none has attracted the public's attention -- and action -- as much as the bald eagle.

"They are now more common than they were at the turn of the century," said National Audubon Society science director Frank Gill.

Experts guess that the bird's population once numbered between 250,000 and 500,000. That number dropped precipitously in the past couple of centuries. The bald eagle's downfall this century was traced primarily to the pesticide DDT, which weakened the shells of its eggs. DDT was banned in 1972.

In 1963, only 417 breeding pairs were found in the Lower 48. In 1988, that figure was up to 2,475. Now wildlife officials have counted 5,748 -- and think that count is low.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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