Bald eagles have been removed from Vermont’s list of threatened and endangered species after years of restoration work in the state, per the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.
“The bald eagle’s de-listing is a milestone for Vermont,” says Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott in a statement. “This reflects more than a decade of dedicated work by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and partners. It shows that Vermonters have the capacity to restore and protect the species and habitats that we cherish.”
During Vermont's last survey in 2021, biologists observed at least 44 bald eagles, 25 adults and 19 immatures, during a two-week observation period along the state’s survey routes, per Vermont Audubon. This number is greater than three of the previous four years.
The United States may have been home to as many as 100,000 nesting eagles when they were declared the national bird in 1782, per the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. But threats such as hunting, habitat loss and pesticide use, specifically DDT, nearly wiped out the population.
“When DDT was rampant in use in the mid-1900s, populations of birds at the top of the food chain declined dramatically,” Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist for Vermont Audubon, tells VTDigger’s Ethan Weinstein. “It’s really important that these birds were able to tell us that story.”
DDT was a widely-used and toxic pesticide that washed into waterways and contaminated wildlife. Eagles that fed upon contaminated fish were poisoned. The pesticide also thinned eagles’ egg shells, causing them to crack before they could develop.
In 1963, only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained in the U.S., per the USFWS. After the pesticide was banned in the '70s, and eagles gained protection under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers began to rise.
“The bald eagle is one of the original species listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act,” Fowle tells myChamplainValley.com’s Devin Bates. “It was kind of a wake up call with this decline that the bald eagles went through for us to realize some of the things we’re doing to the environment and how they affect the wildlife and the ecosystem.”
Vermont still had trouble recovering its bald eagle numbers in other areas, per Vermont Audubon. In 1987, the state labeled them as endangered. Vermont conducted a reintroduction program from 2004 to 2006, releasing 29 eagles in Addison, Vermont, per Audubon. It remained the only state in the continental U.S. without successfully breeding eagles until September 2008, when an adult pair finally raised an eaglet, per the Associated Press.
Bald eagles were federally delisted in 2007, but they are still protected under several laws, including the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.
“It’s an exciting moment,” Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources July Moore told Vermont Public Radio’s John Dillon in 2021, when the state was getting ready to delist the birds. “And frankly, I look at this as building on the history we’ve had of successfully recovering birds in Vermont, including osprey and peregrine falcon and common loons.”