One step forward
It was wonderful to hear that the great bald eagle has been removed from the federal Endangered Species List.
Boy, that's hope right there. It shows we can make a difference. It's also a reminder that Endangered Species Act can, and should, work both ways. Sure, more species are being added to the ESA list than are being removed, but if we can save the eagle, we can save the salmon, too.
Nationwide, the bald eagle population has increased tenfold since being listed in 1967. There are now 10,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states.
The restoration effort could be short-lived, however, if we don't protect and restore the eagles' habitat and primary food source. In the Northwest, that's salmon.
Many people worked hard to bring back the eagle, and I'm proud to say tribes were in the thick of that fight. Good co-management of the salmon resource by the treaty Indian tribes and state has contributed greatly to the eagle's recovery.
In announcing the eagle's de-listing, the Interior Department said the administration would work to assure that eagles will never have to be listed again.
Unfortunately, this administration's primary approach to the ESA has been to weaken the law, mostly through a lack of enforcement.
Keep in mind that the ESA was created as a last-gasp effort to keep native plant and animal species from going extinct.
We should be focusing on restoring the habitat needed to revitalize all of our native fish, wildlife and plants. Instead, the Bush administration is making every effort to ease land use restrictions at the expense of the very creatures the ESA is supposed to protect.
Recently publicized Interior memos revealed efforts to weaken ESA's land-use restrictions by altering regulations at the agency level. Rep. Norm Dicks and other key friends in Congress put an end to that, at least for the time being.
The success in returning the bald eagle to our skies proves the ESA can work. It's too bad that shenanigans in the nation's capitol just make the work that much harder.
Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and recipient of the Indian Country Today 2004 American Indian Visionary Award.