Charles Martin, 334/844-3698



Joe Shelnutt shows off Stirling, a four year old bald eagle being treated at AU's Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center.

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AUBURN -- The symbol of America's freedom -- the bald eagle -- will officially be removed from the endangered species list on July 4, thanks to work of raptor centers like the one at Auburn University.

"As recently as 1985, there were no bald eagles nesting in Alabama," says Joe Shelnutt, director of the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center at AU's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Today, there are about 24 or 25 pairs nesting in the state."

The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove bald eagles from the list means the population has risen to a stable level and that federal programs to increase their numbers have been curtailed.

The birds remain under federal protection because of the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Anyone caught harming one could receive stiff penalties, with repeat offenders facing up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

"The Auburn raptor center was created as a result of bald eagles being threatened in the 1970s," Shelnutt said. "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought six injured birds to the College of Veterinary Medicine and asked that it become a hub for the Southeast. Environmental contaminants and gunshot wounds were common problems at that time and bald eagles were at an all-time low."

As the Southeast's only full-service medical and surgical raptor rehabilitation center, the program rose to new heights last year as it saw a 45 percent increase in the number of birds treated. The faculty, staff and volunteers cared for 410 birds of prey, marking another record-breaking year for the 27-year-old center.

Twenty-one species received care, including red-tail hawks, barred owls, screech owls, great horned owls, bald eagles, and other species.

"We are having a very productive year again in the conservation of these animals, all of which are federally protected species," Shelnutt said. "I wouldn't say that more birds are being injured, but that public awareness has greatly increased, which is a key to conservation."

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CONTACT: Shelnutt, 334/844-6025.