“Our National Symbol”
Posted on April 16, 2007
Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming Challenger the Eagle of Pigeon Forge, TN, to the U.S. Capitol. Challenger and his handler Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation, were in town to commemorate the introduction of Senate Resolution 146— legislation that designates June 20, 2007 as “American Eagle Day,” and celebrates the recovery and restoration of the American bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States. The dramatic recovery of the bald eagle is an endangered species success story and an inspirational example for other wildlife conservation efforts around the world. In 1963, due primarily to exposure to the pesticide DDT, the number of nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 States had dropped to about 417. By 2006, that number had increased to more than 7,000 nesting pairs. Later this year, the Interior Department is expected to officially remove the species from both the “endangered” and “threatened” lists under the Endangered Species Act. Senator Byrd of West Virginia (the senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate) and I are the lead sponsors of the American Eagle Day resolution, with a bipartisan list of cosponsors that includes Senator Corker. Our legislation encourages educational entities, businesses, conservation groups, government agencies and others to collaborate on information about bald eagles for use in schools, and encourage the American people to observe American Eagle Day on June 20th with appropriate ceremonies and other activities. In addition to looking ahead to keep these birds safe, it’s important to acknowledge the good work of groups like the American Eagle Foundation and others in protecting the American bald eagle and teaching us about our national symbol. Three years ago, I was happy to have Challenger join me when I introduced the American Bald Eagle Recovery and National Emblem Commerative Coin Act, which authorized the U.S. Mint to create a special commemorative coin that financially supports efforts to protect the American eagle. Legislation to do just that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004, and is yet another example of the success in protecting these birds. As Senator Byrd reminded us at a press conference to introduce this resolution, the American bald eagle is an amazing creature, with a spectacular talent for hunting in addition to the important role it plays in our national history. I hope that this summer American Eagle Day will not only celebrate our national symbol, but will educate us about how it came to be chosen. Few people know, for example, that the turkey would have been our national symbol if Benjamin Franklin had gotten his way. Wouldn’t it be great if American Eagle Day inspired students around the country to protect the world around them, and want to learn even more about the early days of our nation’s history?