When I saw my first Bald Eagle soaring high overhead I was immediately mesmerized by its huge wingspan and determined look. The Bald Eagle is truly worthy of being America’s bird as a symbol of our freedom.
Honoring the Bald Eagle goes back to the beginning of our nation when the America Indians gave special significance to the Eagle. Bald Eagles are highly revered and considered sacred within American Indian traditions, culture and religion. In 1940 Congress enacted the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 to protect the birds which were being shot and sold. The Act provides criminal penalties for persons who “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof.
Then around forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of North America. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of the pesticide DDT, decimated the eagle population to almost extinction. Legislation in 1972 finally banned DDT. With help from conservationists and environmental groups the difficult task of reversing the population decline began. Since then the Bald Eagle population has made dramatic increases in population growth throughout the US.
So why the worry…things are now fine, right? DDT is gone and the Bald Eagles are now protected by law. Everything should be fine! If only it was that simple. Bald Eagles and other wildlife struggle to survive on a daily basis in today’s modern world. In 1991 it was determined that lead ammunition used by hunters was harming the waterfowl population. Congress then banned lead ammunition when hunting waterfowl. This was a good first step but did not address other hunting activities such as deer hunting. So why the fuss? Bald Eagles’ main food source is fish, but Bald Eagles are raptors, and they also feed off animal carcasses, carcasses that may contain lead shot. Lead from lead ammunition is a serious nationwide problem. If you speak to wildlife rescue organizations, you will learn about the large number of Bald Eagles (and other wildlife) being taken into rehabilitation facilities who are dying from lead toxicity. Many game hunters are still using lead shot which is unfortunately still legal. Most fishermen are also still using lead sinkers that are being consumed by fish. Fish can consume the lead sinkers that have fallen to the bottom of the water bed. Those same fish are then eaten by Bald Eagles and other fish eating water birds. Unfortunately, lead sinkers are lost across the nation in our rivers and streams and then consumed by fish and birds. This starts the cycle of poisoning. One small piece of lead, the size of a grain of rice, can kill an adult Bald Eagle.
Yes, the threat of DDT may be gone, but lead sources continue to pose a big hazard for wildlife. Any hunter who eats meat shot with lead shot should be concerned for their own safety as lead ammunition fractures as it enters the animal. Lead fragments may be so small that they go undetected when the meat is eaten.
Both lead ammunition and sinkers now present a monumental nationwide challenge to the future existence of the Bald Eagles and other wildlife.
So back to my original question about “protection”: Which agencies are actually protecting the Bald Eagles from these new challenges? Currently, only the state of California has totally banned the use of lead shot for all hunting activities. The rest of the states are doing nothing except suggesting that hunters and fishermen change to new non-lead products. The Senate, apparently under pressure from large lobbying groups, is reviewing a current bill, strangely enough the so-called the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015”. This bill specifically excludes some vital authority for the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The bill, if passed, will remove the EPA’s authority to regulate toxic lead or any other toxic substance used in ammunition or fishing equipment under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Ask yourself why anyone would submit such an exclusion? Lead was proven years ago to be toxic to humans, and therefore, we removed all the lead from gasoline, paint and plumbing fixtures. If lead is harmful to humans, one might conclude it is harmful to wildlife; yet our “trusted” officials write legislation that will cause harm to our National Bird. How can this happen? This is certainly not what I would call legislation that will better “protect” our wildlife.
So once again I ask you…Who is really protecting our National Bird?
About David Lychenheim – an Explorer, Aerospace Engineer and Photographer
From an early age David Lychenheim was always interested in art, architecture and nature. As a young boy he traveled throughout the world while living in Europe and the Far East. From his Polaroid to his first single lens reflect camera, Mr. Lychenheim slowly began experimenting with photography to document the exotic places he visited. Having been bitten by the traveling bug at an early age, Mr. Lychenheim continued his exploration of the globe as an adult. During his early 20s Mr. Lychenheim worked for the famous Explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau aboard the research vessel Calypso. As the ship’s communications engineer he traveled with Cousteau and crew throughout the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
For 21 years Mr. Lychenheim helped to explore the universe by supporting the Hubble Space Telescope while working for Lockheed Martin. Today Mr. Lychenheim continues his exploration of the planet, just a bit more down to earth. Mr. Lychenheim’s most recent exploits include several photographic safaris to South Africa. Seeing the wildlife in its natural habitat has had a profound impact on him as a photographer. Today Mr. Lychenheim has become an activist working towards better protections for the American Bald Eagle and other wildlife. Please give his Conowingo Bald Eagles Facebook page a like – https://www.facebook.com/ConowingoBaldEagles?fref=ts