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Archive for Friday, June 18, 1999

A SYMBOL SAVED

June 18, 1999

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Americans have stepped up to the challenge of preserving one of their proudest national symbols.

It's gratifying to know that when Americans have the will to accomplish a goal, they will find a way.

The impending removal of the bald eagle from the federal endangered species list is no small achievement for the nation the majestic bird symbolizes.

Hundreds of thousands of bald eagles once soared freely over the United States, but by 1963, only 417 bald eagle breeding pairs were found in the lower 48 states. Their demise was traced primarily to the pesticide DDT, which weakened the shells of eagle eggs and prevented them from successfully developing and hatching. DDT was banned in 1972, and since that time, the eagle has made an incredible comeback. By 1988, 2,475 eagle pairs were reported; now, wildlife officials put the total at 5,748 pairs. The effort to save the bald eagle is an incredible success.

It will take about a year to complete the process of taking the bald eagle off the endangered list. The new status will mean that federal rules protecting bald eagle habitat will no longer be enforced. However, a 1940 law that protects both bald eagles and golden eagles from hunting and other direct harm will continue in effect. Officials will continue to monitor the bald eagle for several years.

The DDT ban obviously was pivotal to the eagle's survival, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials also give credit to the American public, which embraced efforts to protect bald eagle habitat.

"It's because the American people wanted the bald eagle to come back," one official said. "It wasn't OK any longer for development to disturb bald eagle nests. There are a lot of people who are thrilled to have bald eagles nesting and feeding near where they are viewing. They became very protective."

Local residents certainly can identify that thrill. An eagle pair has been nesting at nearby Clinton Lake for several years, and even though bald eagles have become annual visitors to the Kansas River in Lawrence, it is no less thrilling each year to greet their return and watch them roost and fish along the river bank. There are few sights more impressive than the close-up view visitors to the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza occasionally can get of a bald eagle sitting in branches at the west end of the mall.

It's a sight that Americans were determined to preserve for generations to come. The bald eagle is a fitting symbol for the proud nation that was able to accomplish that goal.

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