One of the most iconic American symbols recognized worldwide is the bald eagle. It was established as the symbol of the United States about 235 years ago and after much debate by members of the government was put on the Great Seal of the United States on June 20, 1782.
The eagle wears a shield with 13 red and white stripes along with a blue patch with 13 white stares. An olive branch, symbolizing peace, is in one talon and a bundle of 13 arrows, symbolizing strength, in the other. In its beak, it carries a banner with the words ‘E Pluribus Unum,” the motto of the United States meaning ‘Out of many, One” defining one nation out of many different colonies.
Bald eagles soar through the skies, are very strong and live a long life, are majestic and are native to North America. For these main reasons, it was chosen as a symbol of the United States. But the bald eagle, in past few decades, had fallen on hard times.
The government recognizing the possible extinction of the eagle population, The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940 giving protection to the bald eagle and golden eagle and was amended in the 1960’s by the Endangered Species Act.
Originally the 1940 Act prohibited the possession or taking, selling or trading of both bald and golden eagles with consequences of heavy fines and or imprisonment, with the exceptions on possession or use of eagles or eagle parts for exhibition, scientific and Indian religious uses.
During the 1960’s only about 500 eagles could be seen flying across the lower 48. Harmful pesticides and chemicals released into eagle habitats thinned their eggshells killing their young. By the late 1960’s only 400 breeding pairs inhabited the lower 48 states. It started to be a bleak outlook for the national symbol.
But by the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act protecting their habitat, the number of eagle breeding pairs increased to more than 7,000. The act instituted captive breeding programs and habitat protection by banning the use of DDT, a chemical compound to kill insects. A concentrated effort by American citizens, businesses, scientists and the U.S. government has given the bald eagle a resounding comeback, so much so, that it was taken off the list of endangered species in August of 2007.
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