by Elise Hinman
This post is the first in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.
Protecting, maintaining and stewarding the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed are daunting responsibilities, especially for a new seasonal watershed aide like me. Starting in the chill of winter, even walking outside sometimes presents a challenge, let alone the duty of keeping a watchful eye on the reservoirs and trails. Luckily for me, in my time of perceived helplessness and inferiority, I am not alone.
At this point in the post, you may be expecting an ode to my accommodating coworkers and supervisors, or a sonnet about the unshakeable, vibrant volunteers I met at my first Trail Crew day. While they are certainly deserving of recognition, do not jump to conclusions so easily. The warden of whom I speak weighs less than 15 pounds, but its wingspan reaches eight feet. Can you guess this creature’s name?
Did your thoughts soar to the majestic bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)? You’d be right! In wintertime, visitors and staff sometimes spot bald eagles using Bon Tempe and Kent lakes as fish foraging habitat. This noble bird commonly appears in Native American legends as a courageous, powerful guardian associated with spirituality and balance. I wouldn’t mind channeling some of those qualities during my months on the watershed.
These stately birds are also international travelers. Many spend their summers in Canada and Alaska, migrating down to the balmier states and northern Mexico during the winter months. In the late winter and springtime, bald eagles return to the vicinity where they were born to build a nest and procreate. Though predominantly solitary raptors, bald eagles mate for life, reconnecting with their significant other each breeding season. Mating pairs will also rediscover their nest from the previous year, adding to its size and stability. The largest bald eagle nest on record weighed over 2 tons!*
Loyal, well-traveled, independent and brave—admirable traits we can all spot in the bald eagle. Had it not been recognized as an icon of freedom and power in the United States (as would have been Benjamin Franklin’s wish—he pushed for the turkey, instead!), the bald eagle might have gone extinct decades ago. The extensive use of DDT as a pesticide in the mid-1900s caused the bioaccumulation of poisonous chemicals in bald eagles and other raptors, and had devastating consequences on the species’ reproductive health. Because of the bald eagle’s importance as a national symbol, the United States took great strides to save the species from extinction. Congress listed the bald eagle as an endangered species in 1967, and in 1972 banned the use of DDT in the United States. Bald eagle numbers soared in the years following this legislation, and in July 1995 the bald eagle was delisted from endangered to threatened. In August 2007, it was removed from the threatened species list—a success story!
So begins our string of monthly blogs dedicated to threatened, endangered and species-of-special-concern flora and fauna using the watershed and its surrounding habitats to cling to survival. Keep your eyes open in February for another scintillating story, but for now, just take some tips from the bald eagle: Always remember to be reliable, self-sufficient and vigilant; it just might lead to achievement.