On Friday, April 24, a delegation of officials from Tanzania, Malawi and Gabon joined DC's own Earth Conservation Corps, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, and staff from the American Eagle Foundation at the D.C. Police Academy at DC Village to celebrate the reintroduction of Bald Eagles to the Nation's Capital more than 20 years ago.
Bald Eagles, which are unique to North America, are estimated to have numbered more than half a million before the arrival of Europeans on the Continent. When the Second Continental Congress adopted the Bald Eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the number had declined to about 100,000.
By the 1960s, hunting (shooting Bald Eagles became a federal crime in 1940) loss of habitat to development, DDT poisoning, and decline in fish populations had pushed the national bird to the brink of extinction, with fewer than 500 nesting pairs remaining in the lower 48 states.
The last eagle nests in the Nation’s Capital were abandoned in the 1940s when the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers became too polluted to support the fish life that makes of 80 percent of the Bald Eagle diet.
Two pivotal developments in 1973 set the Bald Eagle on the path to recovery: the national ban on DDT and the enactment of the Endangered Species Act, which led to the protection of key eagle habitat.
Since its founding in 1985 by East Tennessee-native Al Cercere, the American Eagle Foundation has released 129 captive-hatched eagles into the Great Smoky Mountains area, and has supported the release of 100s of eagles in other parts of the country, including DC.
In 1993, it was the Earth Conservation Corps, under the visionary leadership of Robert Dixon, which reintroduced the national bird to District of Columbia, first at the National Arboretum in NE and later to two locations in Shepherd Parkway: near the corner of 4th and Mellon Streets SE, and opposite the Wingate Apartments at Martin Luther King Avenue and Blue Plains Drive SW.
Every bald Eagle that has been released in DC has been named after an Earth Conservation Corps member who has lost their lives to violence on the streets of DC.
The DC Police Academy hosted the event because the later nest is clearly visible from their parking lot. Chief Cathy Lanier remarked that training in the presence the symbol of our country is a source of inspiration for police recruits.
The African delegates, leaders in the struggle to stop the poaching of elephants and other endangered wildlife in their countries, came to Washington with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which works to coordinate international support for their efforts.
The life of the party was Challenger, a trained, free-flying Bald Eagle who has flown with Al Cecere at more than 350 major events since 1996, including President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the World Series, NFL Pro-Bowl, and the NCAA Final Four.
The Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway looks forward to continuing to work with the Earth Conservation Corps and the American Eagle Foundation to restore the land, the tress and the rivers that these majestic birds rely on.