Thursday, April 24, 2014 · 6:40 a.m.

'Back from the Brink': 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act

Bald eagle featured among top 10 conservation successes

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Today, with some 14,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles in North America—including several in the Tennessee Valley—the bald eagle is a testament to the strength of the Endangered Species Act. (Photo: Contributed)

Forty years ago this month, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act—our nation’s safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. Today, the Endangered Species Coalition marks the anniversary with a new report highlighting a few of the great wildlife conservation accomplishments since the act’s passage in 1973, including the bald eagle. The report is titled "Back from the Brink: Ten Success Stories Celebrating the Endangered Species Act at 40."

The report highlights 10 species that—thanks to the Endangered Species Act’s protections—are either steadily improving or have been recovered and removed from the list of imperiled species. They are the bald eagle, nēnē goose, American peregrine falcon, El Segundo blue butterfly, Robbins’ cinquefoil, southern sea otter, humpback whale, American alligator, brown pelican and the green sea turtle. All of the species in the report were nominated by coalition member groups from around the country. A panel of distinguished scientists then reviewed the nominations and decided which species to include in the report.

The American Eagle Foundation, located at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, nominated the bald eagle for the report because of the substantial recovery of bald eagles to date. This includes their removal from endangered status in 1995 and from threatened status in 2007. 

At least 16 states have released fledgling bald eagles from their hack sites to stimulate renewed natural nesting (hacking). Funding was from both the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. In 1985, AEF began national fundraising to help support bald eagle recovery.

In 1980, Tennessee was one of the first states to hack bald eagles. New York was first in 1976, with Georgia the first Southeast state in 1979. During 1980-2013, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, AEF and their partners have led the nation with 353 such releases from seven Tennessee "hack sites." Of that total, AEF has directly released 128 on Douglas Lake in East Tennessee during 1992-2013, as well as financially supporting other hack releases.

More than 1,300 imperiled species of plants, fish and wildlife in the United States have been protected by the Endangered Species Act, and only 10 have gone extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additionally, a recent study found that 90 percent of protected species are recovering at the pace expected in their scientific recovery plans. Biologists have indicated that the task of recovering a species from near extinction is a decadeslong endeavor.

"Thanks to wisdom and the vision of Congress in 1973, our children will have the opportunity to witness the magnificent breaching of a humpback whale or hear the call of the peregrine falcon," Huta said. "We owe it to future generations to continue to protect our endangered species and the special habitats they call home."

When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law Dec. 28, 1973, he said, "Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans."

Previous years’ reports and a slideshow of animals are also available on the coalition’s website, www.endangered.org.

Click here to read the success stories of other animals that have either been removed from the list or have improved greatly.

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