Meet the peregrine falcon. It is a wily predator capable of reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour. It has gone from a low of 324 nesting pairs 25 years ago to more than 1600 pairs today, ranging from Alaska to Mexico.
As CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg reports, the falcon is doing SO well that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt wants to take it OFF the Endangered Species list--a protection which has been a driving force behind the falcons' fight for survival.
"I think the case of the peregrine de-listing proposal shows that we've had an amazing comeback and recovery of one of the most beloved species in this country, and it would not have happened without the endangered species act," says Don Barry, Assistant Secretary For Fish & Wildlife.
The Endangered Species Act protects threatened plants and animals by putting strict limits on the use of habitats upon which they depend for survival. But the Act has strong critics, especially in Western states, who say it hurts those who make their living in habitat areas.
"We've given regulators a hammer and we've told them to go out and take care of animals. Well, they use it like a hammer and it doesn't work," says Rob Gordon of the National Wilderness Institute.
Gordon and others claim the Endangered Species Act had little to do with the falcon's recovery. They accuse the Interior Department of using the falcon success story to impress Congressmen who vote this year on renewing the act. The department disagrees.
"I think the endangered species act will continue to be one of the strongest, most successful environmental laws this country has ever passed," says Barry.
No one claims the law by ITSELF saved the peregrine falcon. Credit also goes to the banning of the pesticide DDT which interfered with falcon reproduction. And credit goes, too, to volunteers around the country who have long labored to tag, count, observe, and return as many as 6,000 falcons to the wild.
Even if it is finally declared no longer endangered, the falcon will remain under close scrutiny for the next five years. And Americans on all sides of the environmental debate will share the thrill of looking up and seeing this magnificent fighter soar through the skies.
Reported by CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg
Copyright 1998 CBS. All rights reserved.