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With a little help, bald eagles have made a comeback

Bald eagle numbers have bounced back and Minnesota leads the nation with the highest population in the lower 48 states.

Nesting pairs numbered just 417 in 1963 and have risen to around 9,789 breeding pairs today, according to press releases by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Minnesota has 1,312 pairs of eagles, followed by Florida with 1,133 pairs and Wisconsin with 1,065. Bald eagles have also returned to Vermont, the only state in the lower 48 without eagles, when the first eaglets hatched there in 2006.

"The bald eagle has rebounded from the brink of extinction," said Service Director H. Dale Hall. "This success is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and individuals across the nation."

Special credit goes to Rachel Carson, a biologist and writer for the USFWS, who linked declining population to the use of DDT and chemical pesticides after World War II.

The chemical compound dichloro-dephenyl-trichloroethane or DDT, was used to control mosquitoes and agricultural pests. The chemical entered female bald eagles through the food chain. It washed into waterways, was absorbed into plants and animals ingested by fish, and the fish were eaten by eagles.

The compound built up in the fatty tissues female eagles and created a lack of calcium in eggs. Eggshells cracked when incubated by adult birds and caused widespread reproductive failure.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to remove the bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act and must make a decision on whether or not to de-list the eagle by June 29.

If the bald eagle is removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife Act, it will still have strong federal protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act will manage the eagles if removed from the ESA. Also released by the USFWS is a set of National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines.

The guidelines are designed to inform landowners and others on how to be consistent with the Eagle Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The acts protect bald eagles "by prohibiting killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests or eggs," according to the press release.

The guidelines recommend creating a buffer zone around eagle nests to screen the nesting birds from noise and distractions created by human activities.

Also introduced by the USFWS is a proposal to create a "limited take" permit to protect permittees from liability, under specific measures, that could unintentionally harm an eagle during otherwise legal activities. The proposal is open for a 90-day public comment period.

This permit would also create provisions to remove eagle nests when their locations pose risks to human and eagle safety, according to the press release. The example the USFWS gave was if an eagle nests close to an airport runway.