Remarks as Prepared for Delivery for the Honorable Dirk Kempthorn, Sec. of the Interior
Delisting of the American Bald Eagle – Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C. – June 28, 2007
U.S. Department of the Interior
June 28, 2007
Today, I am proud to announce: “the eagle has returned.”
In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years.
Based on this dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior’s decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List. In a few moments, I will sign the final decision document to delist the Bald Eagle. That decision will be published in the Federal Register and in one month’s time the Bald Eagle will officially fly off the Endangered Species List.
Thank you all for being here on what is a great day for America.
Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson
Jim Connaughton, Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality
Alex Beehler – Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health
Congressman David Davis of Tennessee
Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett
Scott Aiken, Bureau of Indian Affairs
And a special thank you to the many folks who have worked toward this day. On behalf of the Department of the Interior I applaud you for your service to conservation and to the American people.
For more than 200 years, the eagle has been the emblem of America.
Indeed, 225 years ago, in the waning days of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson, whose memorial we stand before today, led a group of America’s leaders gathered in Philadelphia. They selected a symbol for our country… one that would embody the strength, grace, and pride of the nation that would soon come into being.
As our symbol, they selected a truly magnificent bird… the American Bald Eagle — the only eagle unique to North America.
Three feet tall, with a wing-span that can reach almost eight feet across, the Bald Eagle is our most majestic bird. The eagle flies at speeds up to 60 miles per hour in normal flight – and more than 100 miles an hour during a dive. Its eyesight is five to six times greater than our own – the eagle can see small objects up to one and a half miles away.
Perched, it watches fiercely, ever vigilant. In flight, it soars gracefully above the landscape. The Bald Eagle is truly part of America the beautiful.
Today, it graces the Great Seal of the United States, the seal of the President and countless others.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon the country cheered upon hearing the words “The Eagle has landed.”
The eagle represents the highest level of achievement in scouting. Attaining the rank of Eagle Scout is a tremendous accomplishment, and I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the Eagle Scouts who have joined us today.
Countless high schools, colleges and professional sports teams have made the eagle their mascot.
Perhaps the greatest honor is the fact that many of our men and women in uniform have chosen the eagle as their emblem — the Screaming Eagles of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne for example.
The Bald Eagle is as American as our flag.
But the eagle’s importance to all of us transcends both its beauty and its iconic status. It is a vital part of the North American landscape and the interconnected web of life which that landscape supports. The eagle’s decline was a devastating reminder to Americans that our environment cannot be taken for granted – ever.
In 1782, when the eagle became our national symbol, as many as 200,000 Bald Eagles flew above what is now the lower 48 states. The journals of Lewis and Clark are filled with Bald Eagle sightings. It was truly an American bird.
But their numbers began to decline due to loss of habitat, deliberate killing and poisoning by pesticides like DDT. By 1963 barely 400 nesting pairs remained outside of Alaska. The entire species was in danger of disappearing from most of the nation … destined to be seen only in Alaska.
But America would not stand for that.
In 1940, the Bald Eagle was first federally protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which significantly curtailed the deliberate killing of eagles. But after rebounding briefly, the nation’s eagle population went into steep decline after World War II, when widespread use of DDT decimated it and other species of migratory birds. The pesticide caused eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that often broke before hatching.
It is fitting that we are here today, in the centennial year of Rachel Carson’s birth. Carson’s work, first as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and later as an impassioned advocate for the environment, was critical to the success we celebrate today. The 1962 publication of her book, Silent Spring, was a watershed moment in our nation’s history, alerting Americans to the devastating impacts of indiscriminate pesticide use.
In 1967, the Bald Eagle was protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, the precursor to today’s Endangered Species Act, and was among the first species to be protected when the ESA was enacted in 1973.
In 1972, the federal government finally banned the general use of DDT.
The eagle’s numbers began to rebound. Eagle habitats were protected. Young eagles were removed from nests in states where they were abundant, and reintroduced to other areas. Wildlife officers vigorously enforced protective laws. And citizens supported eagle conservation efforts, conducted education programs, and preserved eagle habitats on their own lands.
The recovery of the Bald Eagle is a triumph which all Americans can be proud of and take credit for, because it would not have happened without the support and efforts of the American people.
Today’s 10,000 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles far surpasses the recovery goal of 3,900 nesting pairs.
After years of careful study, public comment, and planning, the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service are confident in the future security of the American Bald Eagle.
From this point forward, we will work to ensure that the eagle never again needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
After it is delisted, the Bald Eagle will remain protected by two federal laws – the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acted to ensure a smooth transition to management under these laws.
This day is indeed long in coming. More than a decade ago, when I was a United States Senator, I stood outside the United States Capitol with Mollie Beattie, the first female director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, at an event highlighting the conservation efforts underway to bring the Bald Eagle back to full health.
Today we fulfill the promise of that event… of Rachel Carson, Mollie Beattie, current Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall and many other dedicated people like them who fought to protect and restore this species.
Today we mark the return of America’s bald eagle to the skies, and celebrate the fact that eagles fly free from sea to shining sea.