The Department of Interior took the American bald eagle out from under the protection of the Endangered Species Act today. It's certainly a remarkable testament to the success of the conservation efforts surrounding the bald eagle, which was close to extinction everywhere but Alaska and Canada forty years ago. And I agree with President Bush, who called it a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July. But what happens next? The bird is an icon, still a novelty for many in this country who see them rarely or not at all. I'm not saying there's going to be open season on bald eagle hunting, but maybe stiff penalties for harming them isn't such a bad thing. What does it hurt to keep it on the list for, let's say, ever?
I guess state laws still protect it, and there is a federal law that makes it illegal to kill a bald eagle. But I don't know what the penalties are, and clearly the protections they enjoy will now be significantly less robust. I think it's something worth keeping an eye out on. But for now, I think congratulations to authorities and landowners who made this possible are in order.
Next week I will be in Montana (have I mentioned that in the last five or six consecutive posts?). My first trip there, a year ago, I saw a golden eagle for the first time in the wild. Magnificent.