Consider the Bald Eagle

The current surge of anti-government sentiment in the U.S. — the government is too big, too intrusive, markets should be totally free from government regulation, there should be little or no taxes, etc. — amazes me on so many levels, and today I came across an article that really highlights the folly of those attitudes.

The ideas that Americans don’t need the government telling them what they can and can’t do, and that anything the government does the private sector can do better, really don’t square with what usually happens when American behavior goes unchecked.

Case in point: The Bald Eagle.

Designated as the U.S. national symbol in 1782, included in the Great Seal of the United States, the Seal of the President of the United States, and on much of our currency, you’d think the country actually cared deeply about the animal and its wellbeing.

Well, as it turns out, no. Left to their own devices, the American people, through hunting, habitat destruction, and pesticide use nearly drove the Bald Eagle to extinction in the lower 48.

According to Wikipedia:

It is estimated that in the early 18th century, the Bald Eagle population was 300,000–500,000, but by the 1950s there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states of the US.

It took the government stepping in — declaring the Bald Eagle an endangered species in 1967 and banning the pesticide DDT in 1972 — to keep the country from destroying its own mascot.

Now, I live in eagle country, and knew about the dramatic recovery of the population here, and with friends in Maine knew about a similar success story there, but now this:

But even the most optimistic could never have predicted the resiliency of the birds and the ferocity of their comeback. In Iowa, hopeful environmentalists set a goal of 10 or 20 nests by 2010. But exponential population growth took the Department of Wildlife by surprise. Last year, federal staffers lost count at 254 nests, nearly as many as once existed in the entire continental U.S. The bird left the Endangered Species List in 2007.

Iowa?! I didn’t even know there were ever Bald Eagles in Iowa!

Governments, historically, are never perfect and frequently the opposite, but what we need is better governors not less government. And since we are our own governors, it’s up to us.

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