List changes signal success

Dec. 27, 2013 @ 04:37 PM

The Endangered Species Act is 40 years old. The landmark legislation is credited with saving hundreds of species from extinction since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 28, 1973.

In northeast North Carolina, the act had particular impact on the eastern bluebird and the bald eagle. Both were listed as endangered but have now been taken off the endangered list, in part because of local efforts.

Frank Newell, a former wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Division, became concerned about the dwindling bluebird population and formed the Eastern Bluebird Rescue Group. The organization set up shop in a former warehouse in Warrenton, where volunteers assemble more than 1,000 birdhouses a week. Since 1989, the group has built 207,000 bluebird houses, most of them distributed through the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union.

“At the time I retired,” Newell said, “they had taken the bluebird and bald eagle off the endangered species list.”

He said he was disappointed that the bluebird was off the list.

“It’s back up to 64 percent,” he said, “but now that they’re off the endangered species list, they are no longer protected.”

John Hammond, a biologist with the N.C. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, “When I was 14, I saw my first bald eagle in North Carolina. There were no nestings in North Carolina at that time.”

A major cause of the decline in the eagle population was the use of poison to control pests on farm crops. The poison in the eagle’s diet caused eggshells to be fragile. When the adult attempted to incubate the eggs, the shells cracked.

“In the early 1980s, nesting bald eagles were re-introduced in North Carolina,” Hammond said. “It was de-listed a few years ago, but it’s still protected as a migratory bird.”

De-listing meant that conservation regulations were relaxed. However, it is still a federal crime to kill a bald eagle, he said.

The ban has not provided complete protection for the bird.

“Someone shot a bald eagle near Wise,” Newell said, adding that reward money has been put up for evidence that would prove who shot it.

Newell has rescued a number of animals, whether they are on the endangered list or not.

“Last year we rescued 49 deer fawns,” he said. “This year we’ve rescued 26.”

He nurtured them until they were ready to survive in the wild on their own.

“When we take in an animal, we don’t try to make a pet of it,” Newell said. “Some people try to protect them, put collars on them, put reflective paint on their sides. We don’t do any of that. You’ve got to let a deer be a deer.”

That includes letting the deer take its chances with hunters and other predators, he said.

Newell has several wolves living on his farm. He uses them in presentations he makes at schools, libraries and fairs.

“People have been killing wolves,” he said. “They think it’s a vicious creature, but it’s actually a gentle creature.

“The gray wolf was on the endangered species list. It’s made a comeback. We helped a little on that,” Newell said modestly.

“The wolf is needed to maintain the balance of nature. The deer population is getting out of hand. The wolf is the only natural predator of the deer.”

Newell has helped rescue dozens of animals, including three owls still in his care.

One of the most unusual rescues was a trio of baby squirrels that lost their nest when a chainsaw took down the tree that housed their home. After being nursed by a poodle that had weaned her puppies, the squirrels were transferred to the Newell farm until they were old enough and well enough to return to the wild.


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