Few sights are as thrilling as that of an American bald eagle, its fierce white head glistening in the sun, its wings spanning eight feet, soaring majestically over a pristine stream. This vision helps explain what the Continental Congress was thinking about, 212 years ago, when designating it the national bird.
With some 4,000 eagles soaring over the lower 48 states, the Interior Department is justified in downlisting its protected status here from "endangered" to "threatened." This is a victory for the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
In truth, this animal was never endangered with extinction. Bald eagles fly in northern Canada and in Alaska in some abundance. But hunting, all the more relentless when illegal, and the pesticide DDT -- now banned -- were killing it off where it had been common from Maryland to the Middle West. The bird is still endangered in the Southwest.
The bald eagle population of the Chesapeake Bay remains fragile. But the eagle still flies. The nation's living symbol still lives. It is reassuring as well as stirring to contemplate that, environmentally, things can get better as well as worse.