EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE – After almost disappearing from the American scene, the bald eagle’s comeback is complete, thanks in part to the Defense Department.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and other officials made the announcement on Thursday at a ceremonial event held at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.

“Today, I am proud to announce the eagle has returned,” Kempthorne said. “Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior’s decision to remove the American bald eagle from the endangered species list.”

Although Eglin’s bald eagle monitoring program isn’t as extensive as other base’s including the Army’s Fort Riley in Kansas and bases in San Diego, Eglin’s wildlife managers have taken measures to protect the species here.

Since 1993, Eglin wildlife managers have monitored three bald eagle nests which have produced 20 fledging occurrences on Air Force property here in Florida. They post signs near the shoreline areas where bald eagle nests are found to ensure military personnel are aware of the bird’s existence when conducting mission activity.

As a result of this effort, there have not been any negative impacts to the bald eagle, its habitat or to the military mission here. Eglin has enjoyed a joint effort between its wildlife managers, volunteers and state universities such as University of Florida graduate students who have assisted in research projects to learn more about the species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have assisted in Eglin’s monitoring efforts by using fixed-wing aircraft to check nests for eggs/young. Eglin maintains and protects approximately 1,000 acres of undeveloped shoreline property where young eagles have fledged.

“We appreciate the contributions all of our partners have made with the eagle and the various other natural resources programs we have,” Steve Seiber, Eglin’s natural resources section chief, said. “This type of success is a true testament to how important our leadership feels about the conservation of our natural resources.”

Eglin wildlife managers are no strangers to managing endangered or threatened species. Eglin has 723 square miles of long-life pine forest that is the home to 11 federally-protected species of wildlife, including the Red-Cockaded woodpecker, the Flatwoods salamander and the Okaloosa darter.

The darter, which more than 90 percent of its habitat in the entire world is found on Eglin, is currently undergoing a status review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Eglin wildlife managers anticipate that the fish will be downlisted from endangered to threatened within a year, making it only the third fish to be downlisted in the U.S.