Montana wildlife officials today hailed the federal decision to remove the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species.
"Montana’s bald eagle population now stretches from border to border, east to west and north to south," said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. "The Yellowstone River once again has bald eagle nests along its entire length and eagles are occupying territories that have been vacant for more than 200 years. We welcome the decision to delist the bald eagle, and we're proud of Montana's role in the recovery of our national symbol."
In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to about 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Montana alone is home to more than 360 nesting pairs of bald eagles.
The eagle population fell into steep decline due primarily to widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. DDT accumulated in eagles and caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells, decimating the eagle population across the nation. Concerns about the bald eagle resulted in its protection in 1967 under the predecessor to the current Endangered Species Act. The bald eagle was one of the original species protected by the ESA when it was enacted in 1973. At that time, only about a dozen pairs were thought to be nesting in Montana.
In 1980, the first year that bald eagle surveys were officially conducted in Montana, only 30 nesting pairs were documented, producing 26 eaglets. The Montana Bald Eagle Working Group formed in 1982 to work with landowners, coordinate monitoring, and develop a management plan to protect the few remaining nests. That group produced a bald eagle management plan in 1986. In 1995 the bald eagle was reclassified from "endangered" to "threatened." At the time, more than 160 nesting pairs of bald eagles inhabited Montana.
"With the recovery of bald eagles, along side the recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem and gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Montanans have shown a willingness to trust careful management, to clean up the environment, and to conserve and protect critical habitat," Hagener said. "Montanans can be very proud of these wildlife conservation achievements."
Bald eagles will continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Both federal laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs.
The removal of the bald eagle from the federal list of endangered and threatened species will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Upon delisting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work with FWP and other state wildlife agencies to monitor eagles for at least five years, as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Hagener noted that maintaining suitable bald eagle nesting habitat in the face of expanding development in Montana will be a challenge in coming years. "Bald eagles and humans both like water," he said. "About 75 percent of the state's bald eagle nests are within 500 yards of a river or lake. Conserving those critical habitats for nesting will be a big challenge."
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