Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

We cover a lot of heavy topics on this show, but today we’re bringing you a bright spot- a real success story. 

Bald Eagles almost disappeared about 50 years ago, but now they’re flourishing! We had Charlie Adams and Ashley Junger from our Possibly Team look into how this happened.

Megan Hall: Welcome Charlie and Ashley!

Charlie Adams: Hi, Megan!

Ashley Junger: Hey, Megan!

Megan Hall: So, what’s up with bald eagles? I see them around every once in a while, but I hear they used to be really rare. 

Charlie Adams: That’s right – bald eagles were endangered. But they’re back now! 

Megan Hall: Why were they endangered in the first place?

Ashley Junger: If you want to go WAY back, clear-cutting habitats and human activity have disturbed bald eagle populations since European settlers first arrived in North America. But the biggest blow to their numbers came in the 1940s.

Charlie Adams: That’s when the insecticide DDT was invented. It was seen as a miracle chemical that did everything from combating malaria to protecting crops from insects.

Ashley Junger: People started using it for everything. They’d even spray it in the streets of neighborhoods.

Charlie Adams: And this powerful insecticide quickly made its way into ecosystems across the US.

Megan Hall: What does DDT have to do with eagles?

Ashley Junger: The chemical gets more and more concentrated with each step up the food chain. So, Bald-eagles, along with other predators, ended up with big doses of DDT.

Charlie – and DDT causes bird eggs to get really thin, which makes them more vulnerable. This caused eggs to break before eagles had a chance to hatch. 

Ashley Junger: It got to the point where there were only a few hundred bald eagles in the entire country. 

Megan Hall: So, what brought these birds back?

Charlie Adams: Banning DDT. It became illegal in 1972, not long after Rachel Carson wrote about it in her influential book- Silent Spring.

Ashley Junger: Getting rid of DDT in the US made a huge difference. By 2007, bald eagles were taken off the national endangered species list. And last year, there were more than 300 thousand bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

Megan Hall: Wow, up from only about a hundred?

Charlie Adams: Yes. It’s a big victory.

Ashley Junger: But, in some places, this wasn’t enough. 

Charlie Adams: Vermont has struggled to rebuild its bald eagle population. Last year, It was the only state in the country to have them on its endangered species list. 

Megan Hall: What did they do to try to bring their bald eagles back?

Ashley Junger: Initially, they were hoping bald eagles would migrate to Vermont from nearby states with successful repopulation programs. But they didn’t. 

Charlie Adams: So eventually, they tried a new approach. About 15 years ago, they gathered up baby bald eagles from other states and raised them until they were ready to be released into the wild.

Megan Hall: Did that work?

Ashley Junger: Yes! Since the program started, the state has gone from zero to a record 68 bald eagles in 2019!

Charlie Adams: And earlier this year, Vermont was able to officially take bald eagles off their state endangered species list! 

Megan Hall: That’s incredible!

Ashley Junger: The recovery of the bald eagle is a massive success story.

Charlie Adams: It offers a great example of how, with the right policies and regulations, we can solve tough problems.

Megan Hall: Got it! Thanks, Charlie and Ashley! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.

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