Bald Eagle Almost Ready To Fly

The United States celebrates more than its 223rd birthday this Fourth of July. A White House ceremony will cheer the recovery of the American bald eagle, as plans to remove the national bird from the federal endangered species list by the year 2000 move forward.

To help celebrate the occasion the chief of endangered species for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Richard Hannan, joined CBS This Morning from the nation's capital.

The bald eagle, once nearly extinct, has made such a strong comeback that it has been deemed to be out of danger. It was removed from the "endangered" species list four years ago. Soon, it may also be declared not "threatened," a designation that means a species is in danger of becoming "threatened."

"This is more than symbolic," said Hannan. "This eagle was on the brink of extinction, like many other species. We have come together as a nation to pool our resources to make sure future generations can enjoy this species and other species. This is a tangible American success story."

Wildlife experts think as many as 75,000 bald eagles may have existed when it became America's national bird in 1782. By the late 1960s fewer than 900 were believed to exist in the lower 48 states. Today it is estimated that more than 5,700 nesting pairs of bald eagles soar across the nation's countryside.

During much of this century ranchers and farmers killed large numbers of eagles, believing the raptors were marauders targeting their livestock.

It wasn't until 1940 that Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act which made it illegal to kill, harass, possess or sell the bird. In 1967 the bald eagle was declared endangered and at risk for extinction, six years before the Endangered Species Act became law.

Another important factor that led to the comeback of the national symbol was the banning of DDT in the early 70s. The insecticide was getting into the eagle's food and killing the birds.

The fact that the eagle will lose federal protection in their habitats means that the public will be asked to voluntarily protect the eagle.

Hannan says his agency will propose that the bald eagle be removed from the threatened species list. There is a 90-day period for public comment on the proposal.

"With the potential de-listing of the bald eagle, our state partners, our federal partners, our citizens are going to demand this bird be protected for future generations. We are fully confident this bird will be with us now and into the future," Hannan said.