WASHINGTON - The federal government took the American bald eagle off the endangered species list yesterday - an official act of name-dropping that President Bush hailed as "a wonderful way" to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Mr. Bush said the bald eagle's resurgence after a four-decade fight should be credited to cooperation between private landowners and federal and state governments.
"This great conservation achievement means more and more Americans across the nation will enjoy the thrill of seeing bald eagles soar," he said.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, said: "Today I am proud to announce the eagle has returned."
His department made the recovery official by removing the eagle from the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The bird had been reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1995.
Today there are nearly 10,000 mating pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous 48 states, compared to a documented 417 in 1963 when the bird was on the verge of extinction everywhere except in Alaska and Canada, where it has continued to thrive.
"After years of careful study, public comment, and planning, the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are confident in the future security of the American bald eagle," Mr. Kempthorne said.
He promised that "from this point forward we will work to ensure that the eagle never again needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act."
The eagle, whose decline came during years in which the bird was often targeted by hunters and later became a victim of the pesticide DDT, will still be protected by state statutes and a federal law passed by Congress in 1940 that makes it illegal to kill a bald eagle. Property-rights advocates have argued in court that restrictions on the use of eagle-occupied land should be loosened; conservationists have countered that eagles still need buffers against the hubbub of humanity.
Mr. Kempthorne's announcement was timed to meet a deadline stemming from a lawsuit by a Minnesota property owner.
Earlier this month, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to continue to prohibit activities - like running a bulldozer - likely to make eagles abandon their nests or interrupt their normal activities.