The American Bald Eagle has been our symbol since colonial times when it signified how we looked at ourselves as a nation for the free. Proud, majestic, the eagle was what we wanted to be as a country. But, the missteps that have come to the Bald Eagle since he met America may show a truer picture of who we are instead of our symbol. Before we look at the Bald Eagle’s return, let’s look at how we made them fall.
Though DDT was synthesized in 1874, we didn’t discover it until 1939. I guess even bad ideas take a while to germinate. It was used during World War II to combat Malaria and typhus. It really took off in 1948 when it was discovered to be very effective against insects, spider and crabs. With success, we breed excess. The pesticide’s effect hit all over the world, decimating natural populations every where we looked, including the Bald Eagle. Our once proud eagle population dwindled each year.
1962 saw the publication of “Silent Spring” by Ms. Carson. It alerted the world to the threat of DDTs and other harmful pesticides. It wasn’t until the 1970s for the Endangered Species Act to be passed and DDT was banned. It took a long time but Bald Eagle populations returned as other animals also slowly grew back from the edge of extinction.
The soaring eagle population continued to do what they normally do only more of it. Normally, the eagle feasted on several fish along the coastlines such as cod and salmon. But, while the Bald Eagle was slowly going extinct, we humans started over fishing even more than we normally had. Other factors have been dams and warming ocean temperatures but aren’t we humans the ones building the dams and causing the greenhouse effect with our carbon emissions? It seems we were doing the same job as DDT… just not as fast. Now, the problem was not the dwindling Bald Eagle but their now dwindling food supply.
The Bald Eagles were never in any real danger. They did what generations of eagles have done over the millennia: change what you eat. Now, they are feasting on herons, loons and other rare birds which is dwindling the heron and loon populations. It is getting worse as the Bald Eagle population has returned in many places to what it was in colonial times. Here, balance has meant that success is balanced with failure.
The Bald Eagle’s return should be a success story and it is… if we only look at the Bald Eagles. We have tried and tried to balance nature but we haven’t seem to master the trick. Our hearts are in the right place (for the most part) but we’re still doing something wrong. Shift the weight here and something goes out of balance there. It will continue until we all realize we are missing something in that equation: us. We will not control nature until we can control ourselves.