The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not ready to remove the American bald eagle from the endangered species list in time for the Fourth of July after all.
President Clinton had announced on July 2, 1999, that the bald eagle was back from the brink of extinction after a three-decade struggle and was expected to be removed from the endangered species list by July 2000.
But a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Washington said Thursday that the move has been delayed and that she does not know when it will happen.
"It's not going to happen in July," spokeswoman Cindy Hoffman said. She said government lawyers are trying to figure out whether existing federal law can be interpreted to protect the birds' habitat once the bald eagle is taken off the endangered species list.
"It's taking a little longer than we thought. We want to make sure we do it right," she said.
If the bald eagle is dropped from the endangered species list, it will still be protected under two other federal laws from being hunted or captured. But those laws, unlike the Endangered Species Act, do not explicitly protect the birds' habitat.
"We're seeing an old-fashioned land grab, where humans and eagles are using the same habitat," said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "There's no question, without the Endangered Species List, who will win that."