The bald eagle has made an “incredible recovery,” according to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife report, which recommends removing the national bird from the list of state-protected species.
“It’s really exciting to be able to celebrate a conservation success because they are sometimes few and far between,” said Hannah Anderson, WDFW’s listing and recovery section manager.
A change in state status wouldn’t lift federal restrictions on activities near nests. The species would still be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.
The change in state status, however, would highlight the recovery in Washington of an American icon.
WDFW’s report credits the banning of some chemicals, including DDT in 1972, for the bird’s rebound. As apex predators, bald eagles ingest toxins absorbed by their prey.
“The bald eagle population both in Washington and throughout most of its range has clearly recovered,” states the report, released this month. “The Washington population is robust and all indications are that the species will continue to be an important and thriving part of our state’s natural diversity for the foreseeable future.”
WDFW is taking public comment on the status of the bald eagle and four other species.
WDFW officials also are recommending that peregrine falcons be removed from the state-protected list and that American white pelicans be upgraded to threatened from endangered. Both species are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Also, WDFW officials are recommending the statuses of the marbled murrelet and the lynx be changed to endangered from threatened. Both species already are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.
The bald eagle was listed under the ESA in 1978 and delisted in 2007. It’s still illegal to disturb bald eagles expect under circumstances approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As of 2015, bald eagles were known to have occupied 1,334 sites in Washington, according to WDFW. It’s unknown how many of those sites have been recently occupied.
DDT also was blamed for a dramatic decline in the population of peregrine falcons nationally. The falcons were federally listed in 1970 and delisted in 1999.
Washington’s population of peregrine falcons has been rising since 1990, according to WDFW. In 2009, WDFW found peregrine falcons occupying 108 sites, up from 91 in 2006.
Washington’s only colony of American white pelicans nest on Badger Island in the Columbia River, near the Snake River junction.
The population has increased substantially in the last 30 years, according to WDFW. Some 3,267 breeding adults were counted in 2015.
Marbled murrelets were federally listed in 1992 and listed by the state in 1993. Nevertheless, Washington’s population has declined by about 44 percent over the past 15 years, according to WDFW.
The report cites the loss of forest habitat, decline in fish prey and the bird’s low reproductive rate for the decline.
WDFW estimates 54 lynx are in western Okanogan County, the only area in the state with a lynx population. The cat’s population has not improved since it was listed as a state-protected species in 1993 or federally in 2000, according to WDFW.
Changing the status of lynx to endangered from threatened could focus more attention on conservation efforts, according to WDFW.
WDFW will take comments on the proposed changes until Oct. 10. Comments may be submitted by email to TandEpubliccom@dfw.wa.gov or by mail to Hannah Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission is tentatively scheduled to discuss the recommendations in November.
Washington lists 45 species of fish and wildlife as sensitive, threatened or endangered.
“We care about maintaining these populations within our state,” Anderson said.