Raptor Center essential in releasing bald eagles from endangered list

Will Conley

The bald eagle is back.
President Clinton announced July 4 that the bald eagle will be removed from the endangered species list effective July 2000.
The Raptor Center, based on the University’s St. Paul campus, played a key role in its return.
“This, for me personally, is a real success story,” said MaryBeth Garrigan, director of public information at the center.
Garrigan said the announcement will not affect the center’s activities, and it will continue to treat and release raptors. The 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and 1948 the Bald and Golden Eagle Act will assure the raptors’ protection from being killed.
In its 25-year history, the Raptor Center has captured, rehabilitated and released more than 1,300 sick or injured bald eagles back into the wilderness.
Since 1972, Pat Redig, director and center co-founder, has overseen the treatment of birds for broken bones, swallowed fishing tackle, lead poisoning, collisions with electrical wires, blocked intestines and other maladies. After its official opening in 1974, the center has received birds from locations all over the world; their success rate has been about one-half. Those birds that could not be rehabilitated were either donated to other educational institutions or — in the case of badly injured eagles — euthanized.
In addition to its avian medical services, the center also gives on-site educational programs offering videos, instruction on raptor ecology and conservation and illustrations of the process of rehabilitation.
The Raptor Center, a regionally-focused institution which has been featured on all three major American television networks and the BBC, provides some tangible evidence of the eagle problem, Redig said.
“We had our birds in our hands with the injuries. It took the abstraction out (of learning about eagles)” he said.
The center has a large volunteer support base of 300 people that assist a permanent 17-member staff, Redig said.
“We couldn’t possibly do the volume of work without a big input from the volunteers,” Redig said.
The bald eagle began its long decline in the late 1700s when European settlers, who saw the eagle as a pest, started shooting them. Though a Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1948, the eagle’s fall became precipitous in the early 1950s, when the pesticide DDT began killing birds of prey in droves. There was even a bounty on the bald eagle in Alaska until 1952. These events, along with a loss of habitat and hunting ground, lowered the total population in the contiguous United States to about 450 pairs. Most of them lived in Florida, with remnant populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Washington state.
In 1972 the use of DDT was banned, and the following year the U.S. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, prohibiting the killing of any animal on the endangered species list. Along with the United State’s awareness of the eagle’s likely extinction, these laws sparked the comeback of the bald eagle.
“Recovery would have been impossible without this,” Redig said.
Now 5,800 pairs of bald eagles call the lower 48 states home, 700 of which live in Minnesota, according to census data taken in 1998.
Redig attributes the bald eagle’s return to the positive effects of the DDT ban and the Endangered Species Act passed in the 1970s and a broad shift in public attitude toward bald eagles. The evidence for the shift has been demonstrated in educational institutions such as museums, nature centers, the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society.
“The attitude of humans is much more tolerant, if not openly embracing,” he said.