Somewhere in the Wissahickon Creek Watershed, a pair of Bald Eagles are nesting and raising two young. Occasionally, their long silhouette is captured by the sun’s rays as they glide silently over the creek by the Four Mills Barn. The fact that our National Symbol can be breeding within the shadows of the fifth largest city in the United States is a testimony to the federal Endangered Species Act. Celebrating its 40 anniversary since its passage, it is very difficult to imagine that the Bald Eagle could have survived without it!
By 1963, 438 pairs were all that was left in the lower 48 States from an estimated 100,000 pairs prior to the arrival of Columbus. Conditions deteriorated even worse that by the 1970’s New Jersey, the last pair nesting along New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore were crushing their eggs owing to the thinning effects of DDT, a powerful pesticide, on the shells. They were no longer producing young. In the lower 48 States, Bald Eagles were disappearing at an alarming rate.
In 2007, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency empowered to enforce the Endangered Species Act, removed the Bald Eagle from the list. Due to the protection and management of the species over the last forty years by the federal government enabled the Bald Eagle to recover completely. Habitat protection, the banning of DDT, better education of landowners and the genuine support of the American public contributed to this conservation success.
When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, it recognized that our rich natural heritage is of “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” Under a Republican President, Richard M. Nixon, the Endangered Species Act was supported by a bipartisan Congress winning unanimous support in the Senate and with only four votes against in the House. The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.
Today, all sorts of plants and animals depend upon the federal government for its survival. The Florida Manatee survives in the rivers, bays and headwater areas of the Sunshine State. Timber Wolf have been re-introduced and spread to half a dozen western States. A tiny orchid, the Small Whorled Pogonia grows in protected sites by private conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy. In Pennsylvania, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service established the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge to protect the federally endangered Bog Turtle and its critical habitat; limestone wetlands. Indiana Bat requires a mature forest to forage to be protected from logging, even though, caves, old mines and wells are used for nesting.
The legacy of the ESA is reflected in the States. Most States have their own Endangered Species Program to ensure that the plants and animals that live in within their borders will survive into the future even when the global population is secure. For Pennsylvianians, it could mean going Elk watching at the Allegheny National Forest, hearing the Olive Sided Flycatcher announce, “Quick three beers!” in the Poconos or seeing the Bald Eagle gliding over the Wissahickon Creek!