I Can Fly Higher Than a…Pigeon? Environmentalists Salute The Bald Eagle
By Ryan McDaniels
Stories abound this week of Eastern Coyotes developing new habitats in Boston neighborhoods such as the North End and Jamaica Plain. What a great election year story for Progressives! Huh? Yes, coyotes in the city are just another sign of good government; unless of course, you’re the municipal official now charged with developing a coyote abatement strategy. From a bird’s-eye view, wildlife’s encroachment on our urban enclaves is a reminder that a generation of aggressive government regulation helped stave off the extinction of the majestic American Bald Eagle. This war hawk’s resurgence is a reminder that our country, when faced with a crisis, even a symbolic one, can unite behind an activist government to implement policies that will allow our nation to soar again, along with the symbol of our indomitable spirit.
Unlike other endangered species, this great raptor was not hunted to near extinction for its valuable fur or meat. Rather, years of wonton neglect of our environment led to the gradual decline of this hearty bird’s habitat. In rivers and streams across the lower 48 states lived the fish and small animals that this efficient winged predator relied on for its nutrients. As theses fisheries became laced with carcinogens, so too did the birds that fed and bred there. The main culprit was DDT, an agricultural pesticide that contributed to eagles laying eggs with shells too thin to incubate their young without breaking.
In the Northeast, where DDT was less of a problem, fish were vanishing from the ecosystem due to a hundred years of using our great rivers as factory fuel rather than for replenishing the food chain. The industrial revolution’s side effects were as ominous as the Eagle was once ubiquitous. By the late 1960’s an estimate of only 420 nesting pairs of bald eagles were left in the United States. At a time when many Americans were beginning to doubt our omnipotence as a society the plight of the bald eagle was just one more harbinger used by our critics to illustrate the failings of unfettered capitalism. But, our countrymen of that era understood that Americans use symbols to demonstrate national strength and unity. The flag and the eagle are not tools developed to pit one party’s patriotism against another. They are symbols of national identity not division…especially, when one of these are on the brink of disappearing.
However, in John Boehner and Mitt Romney’s America our national bird more than likely will be that great stalwart of the avian class, the North American Rock Pigeon. Not that our modern leaders show an affinity for the winged rat. But, only the peasant could survive in their deregulated world. This may sound like partisan hyperbole. However, our national bird, the symbol of the American free spirit, was pulled from the brink of extinction by a bi-partisan approach to aggressive regulation enacted in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. This legislation led to and included the Environmental Protection Agency. An agency now considered the epitome of wasteful spending by the current leadership of the Grand Old Party, a party founded by progressive capitalists.
Among the progressives credited with saving the American Bald Eagle is Republican President Richard M. Nixon, who signed most of these laws. Will anybody who was alive in 1975 honestly remember predicting that in 2012 Americans would be yearning for the bi-partisan utopia that was the Nixon Administration? In those days the environment wasn’t a partisan issue. The American Bald Eagle didn’t belong to one party. Its plight certainly belonged to all of us. After a brief bout of malaise in the late 1970’s America and her Eagle mounted a comeback.
Beginning in the 1980’s the North American Eagle population began a steady increase culminating with the removal of the “endangered” classification in 1995, and the “threatened” classification in 2007. Last year (2011) there were 107 Eagles officially counted in Massachusetts, setting an all-time record since the state’s Fish and Wildlife Division began keeping records 33 years ago. The precipitous repopulation of the eagle in the Merrimack Valley has led to the 8th annual Merrimack River Festival. This annual February event allows an opportunity for families to come watch a bevy of these beautiful birds of prey perform in their natural winter home.
The Eagle’s resurgence coincided with the beginning of the deregulation mantra espoused by Reagan, continued in a low-calorie version by Clinton and morphed into the steroid version under George W. Bush. However, most of the initial environmental efforts remain attacked but fundamentally unchanged. When Reagan drastically cut EPA funding in 1983, the business community was part of the coalition that encouraged its restoration the following year.
These were days when regulation and progress did not have to be mutually exclusive. Texas and Massachusetts were culturally different, political allies. Tip O’Neil could find common ground with a California movie-star rancher turned President. Our country soared. Sure we accumulated debt. We had our share of scandals and heartaches. But, like that winged symbol of greatness our heads were on a swivel looking to grasp that next opportunity for survival. We emerged from the 1990’s with few natural predators and a feathered nest. Foreign jackals briefly rocked that nest but the future of our habitat is completely up to us.
We are beginning to soar again. Good sound government, not deregulation, will be as Bette Midler once beautifully sang, the wind beneath our wings.