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Editorial: Bald eagle comeback demonstrates American resolve

Whether you are a patriot, an environmentalist or an optimist – or any combination of the three – there is everything to like about the bald eagle’s revival in Western New York. It’s a modern American success story.

Those spectacular birds, the symbol of America, have been on the comeback here for years. Their revival is now well established, and it’s because of what Americans accomplished, through their governments, to improve the environment that sustains all life. There are no losers in this inspiring tale.

Bald eagles approached extinction in the 1960s and ’70s as the pesticide DDT rendered their eggs too fragile to survive. The species had vanished from this state until a 13-year nurturing program, initiated after DDT was banned, began their revival here.

In that successful effort, young bald eagles were brought to New York from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Alaska during the 1980s. Through that work, bald eagle populations were gradually re-established in the Hudson Valley, North Country and upstate New York.

Now the bald eagles are doing the work on their own, and the numbers are historically high. Those who want to can spot them in a number of areas around the region.

Specifically, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reported a record-high 442 bald eagle breeding territories across the state last year. Among them were 58 spots in six Western New York counties, including Erie, Niagara, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany. Five years ago, there were only 38 such spots.

This is about more than the revival of a treasured species, though. In making the habitat for eagles more accommodating, we have done the same for ourselves. Our air is cleaner. Cars pollute less. So do industries. This is because Americans, through the government institutions, recognized the importance of clean air.
Our water, too, is cleaner. That benefits the eagles and humans who consume the fish that live in our two Great Lakes and the river that connects them. Even the Buffalo River is cleaner, after valuable work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Americans wanted clean water after decades of reckless pollution, and they achieved it through government intervention.

This is worth shouting about at a time when millions of Americans have come to doubt their institutions or have turned cynical – as opposed to skeptical – about government’s ability to ever function in the public interest. This is proof that public policy can make a difference. It – we – saved a treasured species from human-caused extinction and, in the process, became better stewards of the environment that is ours to influence and maintain.

This is the consequence of a 40-plus-year commitment. The question is whether enough people have the vision and commitment to apply that lesson to other challenges, including health care and other environmental concerns.

Those are more difficult issues, but our success in bringing the American bald eagle back from the brink of extinction should be a lesson. Our institutions, fueled by our ingenuity and our values, can be pressed into service to accomplish important, far-reaching goals. We remain capable of great things.

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