But by the late 1800s, many people considered the bald eagle to be a scavenger and dangerous nuisance, so the bird was shot from airplanes, poisoned, hunted for its feathers and talons, and killed and fed to hogs. In Alaska, hunters were paid fifty cents for each bald eagle they killed.
DDT was sprayed liberally on crops and in rural areas, as well as in urban areas, and it eventually drained into lakes and streams. Fish, the favorite food of eagles, absorbed the poisonous insecticide, and as a result, DDT resulted in the deaths of adult birds and their eggs.
In 1963, the United States Department of the Interior documented only 417 mating pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. DDT was banned in 1972, and in 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was drafted, our national symbol was one of the first creatures to be put on the list of protected species.
In the decades since, wildlife researchers and conservationists have actively struggled to prevent the extinction of the majestic bird.
In the past four decades, the bald eagle population has steadily risen, and recent accountings by government biologists have estimated that there are nearly 10,000 mating pairs in the US, with at least one pair in each of the 48 continuous states. Hence, it is being removed from the Endangered Species list.
Its declassification as a protected species was spurred along by a lawsuit by a Minnesota man who claimed that the government's delays in deciding on the bird's status was preventing him from being able to develop seven acres of land that was home to a bald eagle's nest.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the developer, said that the government's decision to remove the eagle from the protected species list is 'a victory for property owners', but there is concern that another law might be enacted that would still be too restrictive.
Conservationists point to the recovery of the bald eagle population as a clear indicator that the Endangered Species Act is a success, despite the law being constantly attacked by property owners and business rights groups.
John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation called the recovery of the bald eagle "truly one of America's great wildlife success stories" that shows the federal law is needed and can work.
George Wallace, chief conservation officer for the American Bird Conservancy, said that he saw his first bald eagle when he was in high school, and it was a rare and beautiful sight. "Seeing a bald eagle in the mid '70s was a big deal," he said. "It was something you really looked forward to seeing. Now, to be honest, bald eagles are pretty common."