The bald eagle population has made such a dramatic comeback during the last 40 years that it might be removed from the federal endangered and threatened species list later this year.
But that doesn't mean it suddenly will become open season for hunting bald eagles. Two sets of laws still will protect bald eagles, and other guidelines are being written for habitat protection.
"In addition to delisting, we're also trying to write some management guidelines to further identify what constitutes a 'disturbance or harassment,'" said Dan Mulhern, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecological office in Manhattan.
The federal wildlife service had been under a Feb. 16 court-ordered deadline for taking the bald eagle off the "threatened" section of the list. The court recently agreed to extended that deadline to June 29.
The extension will allow for clarification of protection rules under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. There also would be a second level of protection through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"These are very old laws and are not clear on specifics," Mulhern said.
The biggest change affecting bald eagles after delisting will be some allowances for removing nests for land development. That is what led to the lawsuit in the first place. A Minnesota man went to court to argue that the eagle population was sufficient to allow the removal of a nesting tree so he could develop on his property.
"In some cases, a certain number of nests could actually be taken or moved because they are in the way of some development as long as it was determined that those losses are not going to adversely affect the overall (eagle) population," Mulhern said.
Eagles on the Kaw
In 1967, the bald eagle was placed on the endangered species list in 43 states, including Kansas. In 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles in those states. In 1995, the eagle population had increased enough to move them to the threatened category. The current population has been estimated at more than 7,000 nesting or breeding pairs and the population appears to be growing.
In Kansas, there have been 23 nesting pairs of bald eagles found during the last two years, Mulhern said.
"That may not sound like a lot but consider that in 1988 it was zero (nesting pairs) and in 1989 we had our first nest," Mulhern said.
In addition to those nesting eagles, hundreds migrate to Kansas at various times of the year. The most recent mid-winter count was near 1,000.
Joyce Wolf, a member of the Jayhawk Audubon Society in Douglas County, doesn't have a problem with taking the bald eagle off the threatened list as long as there are still adequate protections. She said she is concerned about the possibility that some nests could be moved or destroyed.
"I think they have made a fantastic comeback," said Wolf, who helps organize the annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day event. "I think more people are aware of the dangers to them."
Poisoned eagle shows improvement
A bald eagle being treated for lead poisoning is showing small improvements, the director of Operation WildLife near Linwood said Wednesday."His sight appears to be improving, his appetite is improving, and we're crossing our fingers," said Diane Johnson, director of the rehabilitation clinic.But the 8-pound male eagle still has a long way to go before it is out of danger, Johnson said. There are no signs that it has passed the lead pellets it ingested, and it is still receiving intravenous medication."It will be on an IV for several weeks," Johnson said.The eagle can see only out of one eye, and it is not clear how good that eyesight is, Johnson said. The bird's blood lead levels won't be tested again until next week.The eagle was taken to the clinic Saturday after officers with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks retrieved it from ice on the Kansas River near the Shawnee-Douglas county line. A Topeka couple had reported that the eagle had been sitting in one place for several hours.The officers think the eagle ingested the lead after eating a duck or other waterfowl that had lead in its system.