News that the bald eagle -- one of our most treasured national symbols -- is off the endangered species list has to be good news, right?
Actually, it's may turn out to be a bit of a mixed blessing for the raptor, which has been under one form of federal protection or another for more than 60 years.
But more on that in a moment. The obvious good news is the magnificent birds have made a comeback from 417 breeding pairs in 1963 to an estimated 9,789 today.
In Georgia, biologists from the Department of Natural Resources documented 113 nesting pairs during the 2006-2007 nesting season. That's especially heartening news given that no active nests were found during much of the 1970s.
That always wasn't the case. Bald eagles were once common along Georgia's coast and in the Okefenokee Swamp.
But by the late 1950s their numbers had fallen and in 1970, the only active nest in the state was on St. Catherine's Island in nearby Liberty County, according to the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.
Scientists believe the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the 1950s and 1960s nearly wiped out the birds. But DDT was banned in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act was created the next year.
A reintroduction began in 1979 under the DNR and by 1995, there were 89 eagles reintroduced to the state, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
Scientists credit the Endangered Species Act for the success of the bald eagles comeback from the brink of extinction.
But here comes the potentially worrisome news.
Though the bald eagle will continue to be protected by laws and will be closely monitored by federal and state officials for another five years at a minimum, to "ensure that eagles continue to thrive," there are those who fear the removal of the endangered species tag will open up the eagles already shrinking habitat to development.
Consider this paragraph from the National Audubon Society:
"There is some controversy surrounding proposed Bush administration regulations regarding how easily permits would be issued allowing developers and other parties to disrupt bald eagle nests."
Hopefully, through the combined efforts of government and private groups dedicated to protecting wildlife, the success bald eagles have experienced in coming back from near extinction to present day won't be short-lived.
But there's reason to be concerned. As more people cram into areas such as Georgia's coast, the pressure to develop prime bald eagle habitat will become more intense, not less.
Further loss of eagle habitat would be an appalling shame. Not only do future generations deserve the opportunity to see these beautiful symbols of American pride, but if we truly care about these wonderful birds we owe them more than just lip service. We owe them protection from us.
The Bryan County News
June 30 2007