WASHINGTON - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until June 29 to decide whether to remove the bald eagle from the threatened species list under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states because the nation's symbol has grown in population beyond expectations over the past 30 years.
The bald and golden eagle will still be protected by other acts, but a population of nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 has grown to more than 9,789, from a paltry 416 nesting pairs in 1963.
The state of Minnesota has the most breeding pairs of bald eagles with an estimated 1,310. Florida is second, with 1,133, and Wisconsin has 1,065 breeding pairs. Every state in the lower 48 is home to nesting eagles.
The Mississippi River, which borders Minnesota and Wisconsin, provides a natural aviary for eagles all year in southern Minnesota. Huge nests and soaring eagles can be seen because the river is partially open year-round where the eagles find an abundant food source.
The FWS said removal of the bald eagle from the list of threatened species may only impact the eagle's habitat or environment, and American Indians who wish to possess the feathers and other eagle parts are required to go through the same routine of application for permits to receive the feather and parts from the Eagle Repository in Colorado.
Bald and golden eagles, among other raptors, are sacred to many American Indian cultures. The eagle is revered because it soars at a height greater than any other bird, and many American Indian cultures believe the eagle is closer to the Creator and can take prayers to the Creator.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act will still protect the birds from being killed intentionally. On June 2, the FWS defined the word ''disturb'' that is included in the protection acts.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed in 1940; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918 and amended in 1989. Several countries are involved in the MBTA.
If a person is found to have disturbed a nesting area that may lead to the death of eaglets, or a disturbance causes the eaglets harm or constitute a risk to their health, that person could be arrested and fined.
The declassification of the bald eagle will occur the same year as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, writer of ''Silent Spring.'' It was Carson's work that prompted the federal government to ban the use of DDT, which was found to be a major killer of bald eagles.
According to officials at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., many eagles brought into the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota are suffering from lead poisoning, for which there is no cure. Lead shot from shells used to hunt waterfowl has been banned in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and lead weights for fishing are also being mitigated.
The Lakota use an eagle feather as a symbol of honor for a person who achieves a special task or accomplishment. Many college graduates this time of year will be given an eagle feather for their achievement.
Many pow wow dancers use the eagle claw as part of their regalia as well.
The Lakota also use an eagle bone whistle during the Sun Dance; the Creek and Cherokee perform an Eagle Dance.
The Zuni use an eagle fetish to help give personal insight and to help with hunting. The Zuni Pueblo is the first American Indian nation to own and operate an eagle sanctuary for cultural purposes. The Zuni use the mottled eagle feathers and for hundreds of years they would collect the eaglets and protect them in their homes.
The Prairie Island Dakota Community in Minnesota got involved with the protection and education of eagles with a contribution to the new National Eagle Center, which opened May 1. The Dakota hold the eagle as sacred, which was the reason Prairie Island became involved with the National Eagle Center.
For more information, visit www.nationaleaglecenter.org.