Happy Monday News Viewers, and welcome to our Monday free chat; we call it Free Range because of its scope— we go everywhere with words, ideas, thoughts and topics, and OPs about all things environmental, planetary, and global. Free range.
Today, Bald Eagles, just to start us off on a non-insane, non-fascist, non- crazy, non-QAnon, non-Trumplican note — it’s Monday, we need good news. And that news is that Bald Eagles, uniquely North American, were headed toward extinction and no longer are.
In a letter to his daughter not long after the United States won its independence, Benjamin Franklin branded the bald eagle a “bird of bad moral character.” He wished, he wrote, that it “had not been chosen as the representative of our country.”
The Continental Congress put the bald eagle on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. Long venerated by Native cultures, Haliaeetus leucocephalus lives only in North America, a distinction that suited a young republic eager to assert an American-born identity separate from Europe.
But throughout the 19th century and beyond, an eagle seen was an eagle to be shot. Newspapers, government officials and ornithologists wrongfully accused the species, which primarily eats fish, of carrying away sheep, calves and pigs—livestock that exceed its lifting power. Detractors even cautioned mothers that the white-headed raptors kidnapped babies. “For, sad to relate,” the New York Sun wrote in 1905, “the original of our national emblem is a scavenger, a coward and a thief.”
However, once a fixture across the country, the bald eagle began disappearing from an increasing number of states. “Of the millions of people who daily see our national emblem on the coins and arms of our country,” NatureMagazine noted in 1923, “a very large proportion have never seen an American eagle in the sky.” In 1940, a year before declaring war against fascist tyranny, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act to preserve “a symbol of the American ideals of freedom.” Harming an eagle now brought fines and a prison sentence.
Yet five years later, when eagles were poised for recovery, DDT became available for general use. Collateral victims of the pesticide’s widespread application included countless fish and birds, and by 1963, the bald eagle’s nesting population in the contiguous U.S. had fallen to a despairing 487 pairs—far fewer than what a single state would have hosted before the Revolution.
1972, the EPA banned the use of DDT, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed harsher penalties for harming eagles, and Congress gave decisive bipartisan support to the Clean Water Act. Marking its 50th anniversary this October, the CWA initiated the revitalization of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, the majority of which were unsafe for fishing and swimming. Nothing would be more essential to the eagles’ comeback than the CWA restoring their watery habitats.
While more than a third of the world’s national animals, from India’s tigers to Tanzania’s Masai giraffes, are endangered, bald eagles are thriving. During the 2010s, their population quadrupled, reaching roughly 300,000 in the contiguous U.S.—equivalent to the estimated number in the 18th century. Maybe we can change after all. …
Eagles are coming back. Maybe America can too. Let’s talk about it, whatever IT is, with our simple ”no assholery” rule to guide us, what’s going on with you all today?