Symbol of Success

Today, the bald eagle's future looks considerably brighter

08-01-1994 // NWF Staff

Three decades ago, President John F. Kennedy made an urgent appeal to all Americans on behalf of the bald eagle. "The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolize the strength and freedom of America," he said, "and we shall have failed a trust if we allow the eagle to disappear." At the time, the nation's symbol, which originally ranged in every state except Hawaii, had suffered from habitat loss and the effects of DDT and other toxic chemicals. Only about 400 nesting pairs of the birds remained in the Lower 48 states in the early 1960s.

Today, the bald eagle's future looks considerably brighter. As a result of years of protection and recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act and other laws, more than 4,000 nesting pairs now survive in the Lower 48; an estimated 45,000 more eagles live in Alaska. And most experts believe that the species should no longer be officially listed as "endangered" in this country "The Endangered Species Act was the tool that enabled us to make the eagle's recovery an active process," says Joan Guilfoyle of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The bald eagle-found only in North America-is far from out of danger, however. Authorities expect to list the bird in most Lower 48 states as a "threatened" species-a less dire category "Downgrading the eagle's status means that it's doing better and we should celebrate that fact," adds Guilfoyle. "But we must recognize the challenges that lie ahead before the bird achieves full recovery."

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