Twenty-five years ago this week the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, made the crucial decision to ban the use of DDT on crops. This decision cleared the way to intitate recovery efforts of several critically endangered birds of prey which had been impacted by DDT, including the Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagle. By 1972, the nesting population of Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles had been reduced by 90 percent in the continguous United States and both species were teetering on the verge of extinction.
"The day Ruckelshaus took his action was critical to our success in recovering the Peregrine Falcon," stated Dr. Tom Cade, Founder of The Peregrine Fund. "The Peregrine Fund was organized in 1970 and we were fairly confident that we could develop the techniques necessary to recover the Peregrine, but we were equally certain that we would be wasting our time unless something was done about DDT," finished Cade. In addition to founding The Peregrine Fund Dr. Cade and his students and colleagues were among the group of scientists that provided evidence demonstrating the impact of DDT on falcons and wildlife.
Current President of The Peregrine Fund, Dr. Bill Burnham, stated that "the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon provides hope for the future and demonstrates what caring people and effective action can produce. The time has come to complete this recovery effort by de-listing the Peregrine Falcon and move on other species and challenges," finished Burnham.
Orginally it was thought that DDT was a safe pesticide for killing insects. It was later learned that it does not readily break down. Instead, it accumulates in the environment and subsequently in the food chain, affecting many other species. For example, one study showed that birds eating fish had a DDT level that was 85,000 times higher than the DDT level in the lake water.
Extensive use of DDT began just after World War II. DDT caused Peregrine Falcons to lay thin-shelled eggs which were either crushed during incubation or simply did not hatch. The result was that Peregrine Falcon populations suffered dramatic declines. In 1970 the species was gone as a breeding bird from the entire eastern United States and had declined by 80 to 90 percent gone in the western United States. Arctic nesting Peregrine Falcons were also impacted and decreased by 50 percent.
Recovery efforts accomplished by The Peregrine Fund and more recently others have been successful. Over the past 27 years over 5,000 Peregrine Falcons have been released in most of the lower 48 states. Today over 1,000 pairs of Peregrines are known to exist in the lower 48 and there is no indication the increase will not continue. Techniques developed by biologists at The Peregrine Fund have been adapted for use on a variety of other species including the California Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Harpy Eagle, Philippine Eagle, Mauritius Kestrel, several endangered Hawaiian forest birds, and many others.
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Director of Global Engagement