The Banner had the pleasure recently of featuring both in the paper and on our Facebook page some great local photos of eagles.

On Feb. 3, we put on Facebook some fine photos that Jessica Walker took on Jan. 30 at the Bennington Fish Hatchery on South Stream Road in Bennington. She said, "He has passed through before, but today was the first time I was able to get a clear picture of him. If you look at the top of the tallest tree in the zoomed out picture, you can see him. Hope you enjoy and can share for everyone to see!"

Her photos were indeed popular, with 26 shares, 95 likes, and 17 comments.

On the front page of the Feb. 1 paper, a photo by Banner photographer Holly Pelczynski showed an eagle high up in a tree in Pownal. "In chilly majesty," read the caption.

Similarly, 30 miles south of Bennington in Pittsfield, Mass., the Berkshire Eagle put five photos of its bird namesake on its Facebook page last April 5. Staff photographer Ben Garver captured a bald eagle perching on a tree branch at Onota Lake. This, too, was quite popular, with 108 likes and 17 shares.

There’s something exciting and thrilling about seeing -- and even getting a photograph of -- these majestic birds. Indeed, their vital statistics are awe-inspiring, including an adult wingspan that ranges from 72 to 90 inches -- six feet to seven and a half feet in breadth. They can fly to a height of 10,000 feet and during level flight achieve speeds of about 30 to 35 miles per hour.

Younger people may not realize that the sight of eagles in local skies is a joy we did not have in this area just a few decades ago. For instance, annual state-wide winter bald eagle surveys in Vermont in 1979 and 1980 turned up no eagle sightings either year. In contrast, the 2010 survey found 30 eagles in Vermont and 24 in 2013.

Not surprisingly, this resurgence of eagles is evident in Massachusetts, also. According to a 2013 article in the Boston Globe, "Bald eagle population on the rise," a one-day survey last April found 30 active bald eagle nests across the state. Before 1989, it had been almost 100 years since eagles bred in the state, a Mass. Audubon Society official told the Globe.

New York has had similar success as Vermont and the Bay State in efforts to reintroduce eagles. According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the state in 2010 had 173 breeding eagle pairs.

At the arrival of Europeans in North America, bald eagles were fairly common. As the population grew, humans and eagles competed for the same food supply and settlers also reduced the bird’s available habitat, according to the website baldeagleinfo.com.

Eagles, by the late 1800s, had sharply decreased in numbers. By the 1930s, American became aware of the diminishing bald eagle population, and the Bald Eagle Act was passed in 1940.

However, the pesticide DDT, traveling up the food chain, harmed both the birds and their eggs. By the 1960s and 1970s, many states declared the bald eagle an endangered species. Federal legislation followed, including the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the bald eagle as a national endangered species in 1976. Through public protection and private activism, so much progress has been made in saving the bald eagle that in 1995 the Fish and Wildlife Service upgraded its status in the lower 48 states to threatened, according to baldeagleinfo.com.

The bald eagle is an Endangered Species Act success story. This law currently protects about 2,000 species of plants and animals. Less than one percent of listed species have gone on to extinction, according to the group Defenders of Wildlife.

According to an article on Saturday in the Huffington Post, other animals whose stories of preservation "prove the Endangered Species Act really does work" include the Oregon Chub, a small minnow; brown pelicans; the gray whale; the gray wolf; peregrine falcons; the West Virginia flying squirrel; and the Maguire daisy, a perennial herb.

Because protecting habitat often collides with economic interests, the Endangered Species Act has always been controversial. 

Republicans in Congress earlier this month called for an overhaul of the Endangered Species Act. Seeking to curtail environmentalists’ lawsuits and give more power to the states, according to a report by the Associated Press.

"The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species," said Rep. Hastings, R-Wash. "The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list (species as endangered or threatened) than to delist."

According to the AP, "Republicans have seized on the fact that only 2 percent of protected species have been declared recovered -- despite billions of dollars in federal and state spending."

Environmentalists take issue with this number and rightly claim that hundreds of protected species are now on a path to recovery because of protection from the law.

Whether or not the law could use some fine tuning, we view the claims of the current crop of GOP lawmakers in Congress with great suspicion. Republicans once had an admirable record of support for environmental protection -- think of President Theodore Roosevelt. Moreover, the president who signed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was none other than another Republican, Richard Nixon.

This enlightened attitude is no more. Particularly in the House, the current orthodoxy of the Republican majority is marked by denial of climate change, hatred of government, and contempt for regulation to protect the public interest against strong economic interests. Environmental protection is one particularly reviled bogeyman of this orthodoxy.

As evidenced by the resurgence of the bald eagle, the Endangered Species Act has worked well. Fortunately, experts predict that given the current gridlock in Washington, major changes in the law are highly unlikely.

~ Mark E. Rondeau