Washington The American bald eagle, a national symbol once almost wiped out by hunters and DDT poisoning, has not only survived but is thriving.
The Interior Department will announce today it is removing the majestic bird from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, capping a four-decade struggle for recovery.
Government biologists have counted nearly 10,000 mating pairs of bald eagles, including at least one pair in each of 48 contiguous states, giving assurance that the bird's survival is no longer in jeopardy.
The eagle population hit bottom in 1963 when only 417 mating pairs could be documented in the 48 states and its future survival as a species was in doubt.
There were once believed to be as many as a half million bald eagles in North America, predating the Europeans' arrival. The Continental Congress put the bird onto the country's official seal in 1782, although Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey and called the eagle a "bird of bad moral character."
The Interior Department has been mulling over what to do about the bald eagle for eight years since government biologists in 1999 concluded its recovery had been a success.
Earlier this year, a federal court directed the Interior Department to make a decision on the bird's status by this Friday, acting in a lawsuit by a Minnesota man who complained the government's delays kept him from developing seven acres that included an eagle's nest.
Damien Schiff, attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the developer, said Wednesday the delisting is "a victory for property owners." But he worried a proposed eagle protection plan using another law will still be too restrictive.
Conservationists called the eagle recovery a vindication of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which has been under attack from property rights and business groups, and the subject of internal review at the Interior Department.