The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today applauded an announcement expected tomorrow by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the American peregrine falcon is no longer in danger of extinction and is being removed from the endangered species list. Over 30 years ago EDF led the legal and scientific campaign to ban the pesticide DDT, which caused peregrine falcons and other birds to lay infertile or thin-shelled eggs and helped to drive the majestic predators to the brink of extinction. The American peregrine falcon was added to the federal endangered species list in 1970. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT in 1972.
“The remarkable recovery of this magnificent bird represents an important milestone in the history of wildlife conservation in America,” said EDF senior attorney Michael Bean. “This success provides a good example of the value of strong environmental laws, and demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act works. That’s a lesson worth emphasizing in this era of anti-regulatory sentiment.”
Today, over 1600 pairs of American peregrine falcons roam the skies of the United States and Canada, greatly exceeding the official recovery goal for the species. The falcons, which traditionally nest on cliffs, can now be seen nesting on the skyscrapers of America’s cities, including outside the 33rd floor of Baltimore’s former US Fidelity and Guaranty Building, which is now occupied by Legg Mason. This year the Baltimore falcon “Artemis” produced three chicks, which were banded in May. Chicks from this building have turned up in faraway locations, including Albany, NY and Dayton, OH.
On the wing, few if any birds can match the speed and agility of the peregrine falcon, which has been clocked at top speeds approaching 200 mph. Once found throughout most of the United States and Canada, peregrine falcons began to disappear from much of their range following World War II. The cause of their decline was eventually traced to the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides, in particular DDT. (Bald eagles, brown pelicans, ospreys, and a variety of other fish-eating and predatory birds were similarly affected.) By the mid-1960s, the peregrine falcon had vanished from the eastern United States, and populations in the West were greatly reduced.
“The US Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and game agencies, and private organizations like The Peregrine Fund worked together to breed peregrines in captivity and release them in the wild,” said David Wilcove, EDF senior ecologist. “This cooperative effort was crucial to the falcon’s comeback in the East. The falcons that today grace cities such as Boston, New York and Washington, DC, as well as wilder regions across the country, are the result of that program.
“The lessons that can be drawn from this story are two-fold,” Wilcove said. “First, we can indeed save our vanishing wildlife; the endangered species list doesn’t have to be a one-way ticket to extinction. And second, private initiative and government regulation each play a crucial role in the effort to protect our environment and the wildlife that graces our nation.”