On June 28, 2007, the United States removes one of its most commonly-used national symbols from its List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The de-listing of the bald eagle, which had been close to vanishing from North America around the middle of the 20th century, was one of the most notable wildlife rehabilitation efforts in American history.
Sacred to some Indigenous American cultures, the bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and features prominently in its iconography. Despite its significance, the bird’s population declined rapidly over the first half of the 20th century. Use of the common pesticide DDT, which negatively affects bald eagles’ fertility and the strength of their egg shells, was a major factor in this decline, but there were a variety of others, including hunting, poaching, electrocution by power line, pollution, and the destruction of large swathes of their natural habitat. The overall population in the lower 48 states, estimated to have been around 400,000 in the 1700s, had declined to fewer than 1,000 by the 1950s.
Congress banned the commercial trapping and killing of bald eagles in 1940, strengthening restrictions in the ’60s and ’70s. The ban of DDT use in the U.S. in 1972, and its heavy restriction in Canada, also helped revive the species, as did the protective powers afforded the government by the 1973 Endangered Species Act. After being reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” in 1985, the bald eagle’s de-listing in 2007 represented a major victory for wildlife preservationists.