H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
The American bald eagle, once nearly extinct, is making a comeback. The government will confirm that when it takes the revered bird off a list of protected species on Thursday. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne will make the announcement at a ceremony near the Jefferson Memorial, a day before a court-directed deadline for his department to decide the eagle's status. Conservationists have hailed the successful recovery of the eagle as clear evidence that the Endangered Species Act, which has been under attack in recent years from business groups and some members of Congress, can work. Government biologists have documented nearly 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles, including at least one pair in each of the 48 contiguous states. This compares to only 417 such pairs in 1963 when the bird was on the verge of disappearing everywhere in the country except for Alaska. While no longer declared endangered, the bald eagle will continue to be protected by a 1940 federal law that will make it illegal to kill the bird as well as state statutes. Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service also is preparing guidelines for protecting the bird's nesting habitat under the 1940 law and developing a permitting process that landowners will have to use if eagles are found on property they want to disturb. The bird was listed as endangered in 1967, six years before the Endangered Species Act became law. When DDT was banned in 1972, the eagle's recovery began. The Interior Department said in 1999 that the eagle's recovery had been a success, but that it would be another eight years before the decision would become official, culminating in the ceremony planned for today.