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Bald Eagle, Yellowstone Grizzly Bear and Western Great Lake Wolf off Endangered Species List

Some animals can say that they’ve had a good year thus far. Others? Not so much.

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contemplating adding polar bears to the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the bald eagle, the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears and the western Great Lakes population of gray wolves are on their way off, the Service has announced over the course of the last several months.

The bald eagle, after nearly disappearing from the 48 inland states of the country following World War II, is flourishing once again. Its population has climbed from a low of 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to a new estimated high of 9,789 in 2007

Though off the endangered species list, it will continue to be strongly protected by federal law under a series of actions designed to govern management of eagles, a June 1 press release said.

“After years of careful study, public comment and planning, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are confident in the future security of the American Bald Eagle," Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said. "From this point forward, we will work to ensure that the eagle never again needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act."

The removal, and comeback, of the Yellowstone population of the grizzly bear is a result of “intensive recovery efforts between federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and individuals,” a March 3, 2007 statement read.

Grizzly numbers in the Yellowstone ecosystem have increased from an estimated population of 136 to 312 when they were listed as threatened in 1975, to more than 500 bears today.

“There is simply no way to overstate what an amazing accomplishment this is,” Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said. “The grizzly is a large predator that requires a great deal of space, and conserving such animals is a challenge in today's world.”

The recovery of the western Great Lakes population of gray wolves, which is roughly around 4,000 today, is credited to the success of recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has also considered removing the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the list.

"Wolves have recovered in the western Great Lakes because efforts to save them from extinction have been a model of cooperation, flexibility, and hard work," Scarlett said. "This same spirit of collaboration has helped gray wolves in the Northern Rockies exceed their recovery goals to the point where they are biologically ready to be delisted.”

The possible addition of the polar bear to the list of endangered species is a direct result of the dramatic decrease of sea ice coverage due to climate change. Observations have shown a thinning of the Arctic sea ice of 32 percent from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1990s in some areas. The Service will take the next 12 months to gather data of the situation before reaching a decision.

“Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments,” Kempthorne said. “But we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting.”

The Service will use the remainder of the year to gather more information and undertake additional analyses before reaching a final decision on the polar bear.