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'Mission accomplished' for bald eagles

The American bald eagle was officially removed from the endangered species list Thursday at a ceremony near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The bald eagle was put on the endangered species list in 1973. In 1968, there was only one pair of nesting eagles in the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge, said MaryBeth Garrigan, director of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

There are now about 30 nesting pairs between Red Wing and Wabasha, Garrigan said.

"As far as the National Eagle Center is concerned, we're celebrating this day," she said. "We think it is kind of mission accomplished."

The bald eagle population began to decline sharply in the 1900s when it was common for people to shoot eagles because they were considered vermin. Then, in the 1960s, DDT was widely used as a pesticide, which further contributed to eagles' decline.

DDT makes eagles' eggs soft, so when a mother eagle sits on her eggs to incubate them, they break. DDT was banned in the 1970s, and since then eagles have slowly made a comeback.

During his first visit to the eagle center, Dr. Zack Gardlund of Reads Landing said he remembered when there weren't many eagles in the area. He said it was remarkable that now they doing so well.

"I think (the eagle coming off the endangered species list) was a good example of far thinking people for them to put eagles on the list to begin with," Gardlund said. "There should be more birds put on the list."

Don Jacoby, co-chairman of the eagle center's capital campaign, said it's important for people to realize that the eagle is "more than just a bird."

Jacoby helps work with the center's Beneath Our Wings program, which brings eagles from the center to veterans' hospitals.

"The attachment between an eagle and a veteran is huge," Jacoby said.

Jacoby said he remembered one trip that he and Garrigan went on specifically. They brought an eagle to see a veteran in the mental health ward. The veteran was distant and didn't want anything to do with his visitors, but Garrigan and Jacoby convinced him to take a picture with the eagle.

When the veteran looked into the eagle's eyes, he broke down and began to cry.

"If you are in the service, you believe in liberty and freedom," Jacoby said. "In America, the eagle represents all of that."

While the eagle is important as a military and national symbol, Garrigan said it is also important to the state of Minnesota, which has the second-highest population of bald eagles - only behind Alaska.

"This center was built on the dreams of the local grass-roots movement and people taking pride in the bald eagles' recovery," Garrigan said.

Alex Robinson can be reached at