By Ted Hinds of Portland, Oregon who describes himself as a "local activist and conservationist."
It was a lazy, late summer's afternoon last year as I was sitting on my patio that I saw it. Gracefully it cruised not more than 50 feet above the roof tops of my inner Portland neighborhood. I was astonished.
It was an eagle.
No, not the type of eagle that nests in hangers at the Oregon Air National Guard, and not just any eagle. It was a Bald Eagle, our national symbol and the apex predator of the American skies.
Having first landed in Oregon myself in 1974, a year after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, I can remember when Bald Eagle sightings were quite rare. Pesticides and mercury levels in the water had decimated the Bald Eagle population south of Alaska and British Columbia, where most of the great birds are still found. In the 1970s and 1980s, the locations of Bald Eagle nests were treated as privileged information among outdoorsmen in Oregon, almost like a secret fishing hole or camping site.
Today it's not unusual to spot Bald Eagles in state parks or from rural highways, with clusters of amazed tourists pointing to them, but to see one flying over the inner city of Portland truly underscores the success of conservation efforts.
The frequency with which one might encounter the majestic Bald Eagle these days is no coincidence. The Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, which is based out of Oregon State University, has been tracking the recovery of Bald Eagle populations in Oregon and the Columbia River recovery zone in Washington for 29 years as part of a 30 year survey program. The most recently published summary of this research, reflecting 2005 data, reports that Bald Eagle nests can now be found in 33 of Oregon's 36 counties. The estimated number of occupied nests in Oregon has increased from less than 100 in 1978 to well over 400 in 2005. Annual recovery rates between 1995 and 2004 averaged a 6.9% net increase.
In an era dominated by controversy over global warming and the struggle of species to survive the industrialization of man, the recovery of the bald eagle is a refreshing success story. Bald Eagle populations have recovered throughout the United States, thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the efforts of conservation groups. The story of the bald eagle recovery is also an excellent opportunity to advance the cause of environmental protection politically. The contemporary Republican Party, despite its zeal for environmental deregulation and opening public lands to resource extraction, has long tried to associate itself with all symbols Americana. The Bald Eagle is no exception.
Yet without the Endangered Species Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Nixon, the only Bald Eagles left south of Canada might be in zoos. Instead, the Bald Eagle is soaring over the lower 48 states with healthy populations from Oregon to Maine, Illinois to Texas. It's time for Democrats, Greens, and environmentally concerned citizens everywhere to proudly claim the Bald Eagle as a symbol of success for the environmental movement and the cause for preserving America's wildlife for future generations.