Citing a dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan that could remove the national symbol from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
SALMON, Idaho Citing a dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan Monday that could remove the national symbol from protections under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"The recovery of the bald eagle is a great national success story," Dale Hall told reporters, signaling the agency's plan to reopen public comment on the delisting.
"This bird has a lot of the public's attention," he said. "We wanted to make sure we did it right."
The bald eagle is a U.S. symbol that appears on everything from the dollar bill to the presidential seal.
The plan to remove bald eagles from the endangered species list is the latest of recent proposals by the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist iconic American wildlife, including gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area.
The Fish and Wildlife Service first floated a proposal in 1999 to remove bald eagles from the list of endangered and threatened species but it was stalled by a controversy over whether separate federal laws affecting the popular bird offered enough protection.
The agency also announced Monday that it wants to strengthen wording of one of those laws as well as provide voluntary guidelines for human activities that may interfere with bald eagles or destroy their nesting, roosting and feeding areas.
Conservationists hailed the eagle's comeback and said they generally supported the delisting.
"The return of our national symbol is a victory for wildlife, a victory for conservation and a victory for the Endangered Species Act," said Doug Inkley, senior science officer for the National Wildlife Federation.
The bald eagle population in the lower 48 states has soared from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to more than 7,066 nesting pairs.
The bird's dwindling numbers first became a concern in 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Over the decades, continued declines in eagle populations, with causes ranging from use of the pesticide DDT to logging of nesting trees, prompted a series of legal protections.