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Government Programs Aided Bald Eagles in Missouri

Gary Grigsby

Bald eagles in Missouri were taken off the federal endangered species list in 2007.

The road to recovery took nearly 30 years.  

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) now reports that around 2,000 bald eagles spend part of the winter in the show me state.

Kathleen Cain of Columbia made the trek to Clarksville, Missouri earlier this year for a bit of eagle viewing along the Mississippi River.  "They're majestic, they really are," said Cain.  Cain also said she knows the role the Endangered Species Act played in making the eagle influx to Missouri possible.  "I believe in the act.  I believe in it for other species. Once we lose a species, we lose something in the ecosystem.  And I think we barely understand what that means."

While a lot of eagles visit during the winter, MDC says this year nearly 250 pair now have permanent nests in the state.  But in the mid to late 1960's the number of nesting pairs had dropped to zero.  

The insecticide DDT was playing a huge role in their demise.  It was banned in 1972 and six years later the bald eagle went on the federal endangered species list in most states.  "I think it's a great thing we did that. I am proud we are able to pass legislation like that when other things don't go through.  This was an important thing to do.  It's our national bird," said Terry Jackson of Columbia who was in Clarksville for eagle viewing and also attended an MDC program that included a video presentation.  It focused on the efforts MDC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made, mostly in the 1980's, to revive eagle numbers, which included bringing in young eagles from other states and raising them at artificial nests at wetland sites around the state. 

Staff from the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri were also in Clarksville to talk eagles.  "Their feet are 200 times stronger than our hands," said Johanna Burton.  With a bald eagle  named McGwire perched on her gloved hand, Burton told dozens of folks how DDT nearly killed off our national symbol.  
Over decades she said it worked its way up the food chain to predators like the bald eagle.  It didn't kill them directly, but in essence it weakened their eggs.  "Their eggshells were so thin that when the mother went to sit on her eggs to incubate them, they would crush flat beneath her body weight and break," said Burton. "So no bald eagles were hatching in the wild.  We didn't know it but we were driving the bald eagles extinct."

David Stockard is glad that didn't happen.  The Columbia resident was in the audience listening to Burton as she praised the Endangered Species Act and other efforts to save eagles.  He agreed with what she said. "Doing away with a dangerous product and bringing this kind of wildlife refuge back to life, we've been able to save the species," Stockard said.  "I think that's fantastic and great."

The bald eagle, while not endangered, is still what's called a threatened species and because of that Johanna Burton from the World Bird Sanctuary said we can't let our guard down now.