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Welcome Back, Eagles

July 8, 1999



You'd think the national symbol would get more respect, but after years of habitat loss, DDT contamination, and hunting, the bald eagle was becoming a rara avis. By 1963 only 417 nesting pairs were left in the lower 48, and for most people, the best place to see one was in a zoo or on the back of a quarter.

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But the ban on DDT and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 have helped the fish-eating bald eagle soar again: Some 5,800 pairs now patrol the skies and streams, enough that the Fish and Wildlife Service is moving the fowl from the endangered list to the merely threatened.

The bald eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus) now joins more than 20 other species, including the alligator, in moving off the endangered list. Another eight are in line for "promotion."

Still threatened, the come-back bird will remain under the protection of eagle-eyed federal and state wildlife officials. Meanwhile, like Cleveland's no-longer-flammable Cuyahoga River, the bald (really, white-headed) eagle now acquires a new symbolism: a sign of the environmental progress that's possible when Homo sapiens puts their mind to it.