Bald eagles, a symbol of American freedom, owe their resurgence in north Alabama to an agency many politicians have branded an enemy of freedom.
The majestic birds had almost disappeared from Alabama in the 1960s. The heavy agricultural use of the pesticide DDT contaminated fish, which in turn contaminated eagles. The chemical caused the birds to lay eggs with shells too thin to survive incubation.
By 1963, only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained in the continental United States.
When former President Richard Nixon successfully pushed for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, he met resistance. The debate became fierce in 1972 when the EPA, in one of its first significant actions, banned most uses of DDT. The agricultural industry in Alabama and elsewhere complained fiercely of governmental overreach. DDT manufacturers sued.
Despite the uproar, courts held that the DDT ban was constitutional.
Bald eagles also enjoyed protection from another controversial law promoted by Nixon, the Endangered Species Act, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Four decades after the EPA’s controversial move, the number of nesting bald eagles in the continental United States exceeds 10,000. The birds were removed from the endangered species list in 1995, and from the threatened species list in 2007.
Sightings have become common along the Tennessee River. There are at least 10 bald eagle nests between Wheeler Dam and the Tennessee line, and many more migrate here every winter.
Calls to abolish the EPA are even more common than eagles in today’s Alabama. Too many of our politicians attack an agency that they see as a symbol of federal excess, but forget that among its many successes is the preservation of a symbol of American freedom.
In the United States, freedom means more than the unrestricted ability to make a buck.
The ban on DDT was a federal intrusion that interfered with Alabama agribusiness. The regulation also returned to the public the freedom to enjoy one of God’s majestic creations.
The bald eagle is an appropriate symbol of U.S. liberty. When the freedom of some impinges on the freedom of others, someone must mediate the competing interests.
In America, we reach these compromises ourselves. We do so through the government we created.