American bald eagle populations have quadrupled since 2009, according to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its partners, the U.S. Department of the Interior said Wednesday. 

According to a news release from the Interior Department, bald eagles were once on the brink of extinction, “reaching an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states.” 

“However, after decades of protection, the banning of the pesticide DDT, and conservation efforts with numerous partners, the bald eagle population has flourished, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs,” the release added. 

According to scientists from USFWS’s Migratory Bird Program, the bald eagle population has reached an estimated 316,700 individual bald eagles in the lower 48 states, which indicates that the population has climbed rapidly since the previous survey was completed. 

“Today’s announcement is truly a historic conservation success story. Announcements like ours today give me hope. I believe that we have the opportunity of a lifetime to protect our environment and our way of life for generations to come. But we will only accomplish great things if we work together,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement.

“The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the most well-known conservation success stories of all time,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams in a statement. “The Service continues to work with our partners in state and federal agencies, tribes, non-government organizations and with private landowners to ensure that our nation’s symbol continues to flourish.”

Eagles are a prominent symbol and figure in almost every Native American tribe and one of the most widespread clan animals used by Indigenous cultures. Eagle feathers are used in Indigenous ceremonies, so in 1970 a federal repository of deceased eagles was created by USFWS so Native American tribes could access eagle feathers and other parts of the animal for tribal use. 

“By federal law, it’s illegal to possess, use or sell eagle feathers — a policy that is meant to deter hunters from poaching wild eagles for their feathers or body parts. A violation can result in a fine of up to $200,000, one year of imprisonment, or both,” Smithsonian Magazine reported in 2016. 

“However, the law, which is part of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, stipulates that Native Americans who are members of federally recognized tribes can obtain a permit under the Federally Recognized Tribal List Act of 1994 to gain access to golden eagles and bald eagles,” the article said. “Every year, each tribal member over the age of 18 can apply to receive up to one whole golden or bald eagle, or various pieces that are equivalent to what one single eagle would contain, such as a pair of wings, a tail, a pair of talons, a head or a trunk.”

Eagle feathers and other parts are used by tribal members to create headdresses, dance shawls, and other items for religious and cultural ceremonies. 

To estimate the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states, Migratory Bird Program pilot biologists and observers from many service regions, programs and contract observers conducted aerial surveys over a two-year period in 2018 and 2019, the Interior Department said.

The full 2020 report on the American bald eagle population is available at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

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