Published: October 2016
Author(s): Kevin S. Kalasz and Joseph B. Buchanan
The recovery of Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations across North America is one of the great species recovery success stories in the United States. When the species was first listed as Endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1978, the primary reason for its imperiled status was due to the effects of chemical contaminants and, to a lesser extent, habitat loss. Protection measures have allowed Bald Eagles to make an incredible recovery both within Washington as well as nationally, which led to its federal delisting in 2007. Bald Eagles are well distributed in Washington, but the majority of the population is found west of the Cascade Range. Bald Eagles are found in association with marine environments and nearly all major waterways, inland lakes, and reservoirs. Bald Eagles are largely piscivorous and they also take birds and mammals; scavenging is commonly practiced.
Recent data from North America indicate that population growth between 1966 and 2013 was 5.37% annually, and modeling indicates that population growth across the range is projected to continue for another 10 to 20 years until the total population stabilizes at around 228,000 birds. A review of all known Bald Eagle territories in the Washington Species Data Management system indicates that the number of territories has increased by an average of 28 per year since 2005 when the species was downlisted in the state to Sensitive. As of 2015, the total number of known territories in the state was 1,334, but this total reflects the cumulative number of sites and not the number that are known to be active in any particular year.
Factors that have been known to impact populations include chemical contaminants and the absence of regulations that adequately protect Bald Eagles. With the restrictions placed on the use of DDT and the decline in use of other environmental contaminants the Bald Eagle population has rebounded, despite contaminants that remain present. While there are still threats to Bald Eagles, none of the threats that have previously impacted eagles are having known deleterious effects, and current population analyses indicate that Bald Eagle populations will continue to grow despite those threats.
We recommended that the designation of Sensitive status for Bald Eagles is no longer appropriate and that the species be removed from Washington's list of endangered species. This action does not remove protections intended to sustain the population. Bald Eagles will continue to be protected under three federal acts: the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act. The population of Bald Eagles in Washington is robust and the species will continue to be an important and thriving part of our state's natural diversity for the foreseeable future.
Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.