Jack E. Davis is a history professor at the University of Florida, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, and the author, most recently, of The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird. In this episode, Davis explains how the Bald Eagle ended up on the Great Seal of the United States, its near-extinction due to hunting and DDT, its role as a “spirit bird” for Native Americans and Anglos alike, and why its recovery is a “great American conservation success story.”
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics and we’re gonna get a big dose of politics around America’s most famous bird. And I’m pleased to welcome my guest, Jack E. Davis. He is the author of the bald eagle the improbable journey of America’s bird. Jack, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Jack E. Davis 0:26
It’s my pleasure, Robert, thanks for having me.
Robert Bryce 0:28
You bet now just warned you that guests introduce themselves. So I’ve listed danger as the author of this book, but you have a couple of other things that you’ve been doing. So please, if you don’t mind Majan you’ve arrived somewhere and you have about 60 seconds. Introduce yourself, please.
Jack E. Davis 0:42
Okay, I’m a I’m a professor of history, specializing in environmental history at the University of Florida, where I’m also the Rothman family chair on the humanities. I’m the author editor of several books. That probably my best known book is one that was published before the bald eagle, the golf, the making of an American See, which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, and I write on the environments, whether it’s about a bird or whether it’s about a place.
Robert Bryce 1:16
Well, that’s a good introduction, and I’m sure it feels kind of good to say, Well, I didn’t by the way and win the Pulitzer Prize. I’ll come back to that. Okay, but But first, I want to just tell you so this is a rave. I have had a lot of guests on the podcast, I read, read the bald eagle cover to cover. I’m an avid birdwatcher, and so I read it with great interest in It’s a marvelous book, I you know, congratulations. So thank you. Why this book and why now?
Jack E. Davis 1:46
Well, a couple of reasons. One is environmental writer, I’m aware that readers are often subjected to the doom and gloom, they get a little bit of an overdose of the grim and the tragic, I think, and, and there’s plenty of grim and tragic, as you know, in the bald eagles historical relationship with our country, but there’s also redemption and there’s restoration. And ultimately, it’s a great American conservation success story. So I wanted to try to give readers a break from from the usual and offer them something a little more upbeat. And something that might offer us a little positive reinforcement is we confront environmental challenges of the 21st century, but also their generations of us, particularly baby boomers who grew up without the bald eagle, because of DDT. Bald Eagle was a rare sight when I was growing up, and I grew up in Florida, which has ideal habitat for bald eagle their their fishing wrappers, so they for fish to other other species, but And so but now we’re seeing them more than ever, we’re seeing them more frequently we’re seeing it in greater numbers and and it’s become a new spark bird, right. And, you know, jab the guy and in the ribs next few sort of excitement when it crosses the sky. So I thought that since we’re seeing so many of these birds now that that folks might like to know a little bit about this. Both it’s the natural and the cultural history of the bald eagle.
Robert Bryce 3:22
It is it is an amazing sight. And I’m an avid birdwatcher, which is one of the reasons why I was so interested in the bird rather than the book I saw the review in The Wall Street Journal and I thought, Oh, this sounds great. And I’ve seen the bald eagle and the golden eagle in the wild in the last year and so it was one of the things that I thought okay, well, it’d be great to to read the book and I did and I mentioned before we started I bought it on both my Kindle and my and I have a hard copy here. But she said about Florida and Florida plays a prominent role in the recovery of the of the bald eagle. But the book is wonderfully written you have this about the about the bald eagle you say river equal fish equal bald eagles balls eat what Golden’s eat, but their tastes Renda fish, salt, water and fresh, seizing prey from land, water and sky balls are the rare airborne species that feeds at all three tables. They are birds of prey, meaning they hunt live animals for food and they are wrappers which are birds of prey with beaks and large talons bearing fatally sharp ends. hawks, falcons, vultures, owls, kites, Kara cares and Ospreys are all raptors, more so than the others except vultures and perhaps Cara Kara’s balds also scavenge it’s It’s beautifully written book and the way you tie the history in the anthropology and kind of the Americas dual kind of relationship with the bird right that it was it was on the Great Seal and then it was hunted almost to extinction and then DDT and yet it came back. What surprised you and your research because and well first, how long did it take you to write it?
Jack E. Davis 4:58
It took me About four years I had two years leave from from the university in the middle of COVID ideal time. And so one of those years was paid by Bertie fellowship.
Unknown Speaker 5:12
Good time to go birdwatching.
Jack E. Davis 5:14
Yeah, good timing govreports watching. In fact, I did. I mean, I saw just even just 10 minutes from my house bought bald eagles numbers I’d never seen before it was it was a good time to write a book, believe it or not, and it so what surprised me I, you know, I didn’t know a lot about the bald eagle before I started writing, researching and writing the book. And of course, I was aware of the DDT years like most people are, which was devastating for all sorts of bird life. And including the Osprey which you had mentioned, and other rappers as well. But I think the slaughter the direct slaughter of Americans against this, this bird that was a living species behind one of their most powerful symbols was was what surprised me as much as anything. But also, there are a lot of as you know, there a lot of heroes in this book, dealing with trying to say the bald eagle first in the early 20th century, which led to the passage of the 1940 Bald Eagle act. And unfortunately, that was fallen five years later by the commercial release of DDT. And and then of course, all the people who work very hard fish and wildlife and state wildlife officials and volunteers to try to help bring the bald eagle back from the brink after the DDT years.
Robert Bryce 6:47
So while you write in several places about the changing scientific name of the bird and then went through several genus genus names before arriving on the final one, so I like I usually include birds in my my newsletter, I do include birds in my weekly newsletter, pronounced the scientific name if you don’t mind, how do you pronounce that?
Jack E. Davis 7:12
How do you just look as follows
Robert Bryce 7:15
haliaeetus See, as I read it, I’d say Halle Halle itas. Lucas a phallus, but you know, you probably could. Potato Potato. So were you a birder before writing the book?
Jack E. Davis 7:28
No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t a birder. I mean, I’ve always been an appreciator always appreciated nature growing up and again, Florida were so present. And as after not just the DDT years, but you know, we had by the 1970s by 72 when the pay ban DDT, nearly barely 1/3 of the nation’s water. were safe for swimming and fishing. That meant it wasn’t the water wasn’t good habitat for water birds. And so I saw the bird life of stick legged bird life in Florida come back from from, you know, come back to life. When I was a kid growing up, I’d saw brown pelicans and gulls and that was about it. But now we see all all sorts of showy bird life, right and I just love that I’m not good at identifying their voices. I’m not good at identifying often identifying their colors and you know their physical themselves either. But I have to say it researching writing the book about the bald eagle, I really came to respect this burden, appreciate it to an extent I had not expected
Robert Bryce 8:42
Well, let’s let’s talk about the bowtie issue because that was the one that to me was the part that was so remarkable. Is that this bird? Well, first let me actually let’s come back to that there were two things that I thought you debunked really at the beginning of the book that were remarkable one was The Colbert Report, which has the bald eagle on it and I kind of I you know, I watched that show is a lot of people did, but that the show the bald eagle, but the sound of the bird is not the bald eagle to explain that if you don’t mind.
Jack E. Davis 9:13
Yeah, that’s that’s that’s correct. That bald eagle actually from our perspective has something of a wimpy voice now, it may not be so wimpy to wildlife is as I write in the book, certainly a squirrel that here’s the bald eagle is going to be fright. And but it’s it’s not it’s not really a voice that we would assume was suitable for the bird on the front of our the great seal that the United States and and so when Hollywood went you know started casting bald eagles whether you know, you know the opening credits of the Colbert Report or movies or Northern Exposure to had a bald eagle crossing and they dub in a red tail Are because a smaller bird, and that that will fear the bald eagle yet it has a really, again, from our perspective, a really powerful voice.
Robert Bryce 10:14
Right? Whereas the bald eagle is more of a kick in the red, the red tail is this more of a scream that is more sounds more intimidating. But it reminded me when I read that that was several years ago maybe you saw this that they in during the Masters I believe it was they were piping in bird sounds that weren’t native to Georgia. And there was a beggar who was listening and he said wait a minute, those birds aren’t in Georgia and so CBS had to fess up to the fact that they were using the wrong bird sounds for Georgia and they were called on it but just reminded that the the the idea of the bird and for the Hollywood or for the producers is sometimes it Trump’s the reality of what the bird is actually is. But the other one is the is Benjamin Franklin and this whole idea of the turkey and you go you writes for several pages about the fact that you know in the lead the legend is that that Franklin didn’t want the turret the bald eagle he wanted the American Turkey on the on the Great Seal. But you pointed out that that was only in one letter and it may have been that he was just joking the whole time explain that if you don’t mind.
Jack E. Davis 11:25
Right he was in a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bach. He was comparing the the quote unquote morality of bald eagle with with wild turkey and any did say that he wished that the bald eagle were not the country’s representative. And he saw the ball saw the wild turkey is more noble, courageous, while the bald eagle because it’s a scavenger and it steals from other birds such as Aspray Osprey. He referred to the bald eagles this rank coward and thief. And but he never said he wanted the wild turkey on the grape seal the United States and ever said that. He wanted the Wild Turkey as as the national bird. And he was on as I write in the book. He was on the the first congressional committee that was charged with designing a great seal that committee failed miserably even though you have Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Ben Franklin star cast, they failed miserably. And not only did Franklin law, not want the turkey are requested to Turkey beyond the Great Seal United States. He wanted something altogether different which I’m not going to share with your readers. Because that’s going to be a little teaser. I want them to find out it blew my mind I’m sure it blew your mind to when you learn what he actually proposed for the seal of the Great Seal of the United States. And But this leads to another myth that I talked about that same section. The bald eagles, not the national bird. We have no national bird in this country. Congress’s never I designated national bird is as the national mammal which is the vice and the national flower that grows in the national tree which is the Oh, but But tomorrow Congress could choose some other candidate altogether be to be National Park.
Robert Bryce 13:19
And it is remarkable because as to my knowledge, and most every state has a state bird. I’m from Oklahoma, it’s the it’s the the scissor tailed flycatcher. Here in Texas as the mockingbird, several states have claimed the Northern Cardinal if memory serves. So states have designated their their state bird but we don’t have a national bird which we assume that that because it’s on the seal. That’s it. That’s a good point. I also really liked in the book where you talked about? Well, actually, before I talked about that. Yeah. We mentioned the issue of bounties on the eagle. And so there was the parallel that you made about the eagle and the bison and that they were both almost hunted to extinction. And then there was this moment where Oh, no, wait, maybe we need to save these last few. And there’s also the this issue around them Native Americans and their relationship to both of those animals. Talk about that, if you don’t mind that, what what is similar? Or what are the parallels or I’m asking you on the spot here about the parallels between the bison and the eagle and how close they came to extinction?
Jack E. Davis 14:24
Yeah, of course, you know, native peoples, many Native groups hunted bison for food and bison are more than just food their whole storehouse I’m gonna use virtually everything from Bison, and they did not hunt them excessively. They did not push them to the brink of extinction. They still remain vital members of the ecosystems that native peoples are dependent upon. Same with the bald eagle the bald eagle is considered by many Native groups as as a spirit or messenger between the people on earth and their ancestors and in the Creator. their body parts, including their feathers are conduits to the spirit world. So native peoples have, for 1000s of years hunted bald eagles and to use in ceremonies and rituals. But again, not excessively, there’s always been there’s always a designated Eagle catcher or hunter goes through elaborate rituals before going out and taking an eagle from from the wild. But Americans regarded although they love the image of the bald eagle, they embrace it immediately when it went on the front of the Great Seal the United States and they began putting it on everything, obviously government Signia it military regalia, but business logos, organizational logos, sports teams, you name it, you know, motorcycle jackets today. And but Americans did not like the living bird species. It was it’s a predator and they treated it like wolves and coyotes and, and mountain lions. They accused it of all sorts of crimes often wrongfully of stealing livestock such as pigs and calves and, and cheap none of which it can lift off the ground it can steal chickens, but it you know, a large bald eagle can perhaps lift five pounds off the ground but really nothing more. And so bald eagles were were marked for eradication of bald eagle scene was a baldy going to be shot. And, and you’re talking you mentioned the bounty you’re referring to the bounty of in the Alaska territory, which was adopted in 1917. The very year that America I mean, here’s another so many ironies in the story. America in 1917, went to war. And in Europe, taking the symbol of the bald eagle the bird of freedom. With it, this bird that was being denied its own freedom. That same year at Alaska implemented a bounty on a bald eagle. So somebody turning into solid set of talents could collect 50 cents from the from the territory. And many people became full time bald eagle bounty hunters. And that bounty remained in effect until 1952 In a territory paid bounties on over 128,000 Bald Eagles during that period.
Robert Bryce 17:32
And you mentioned that even some some of the the talents would be animals would be shot in the lower 48. And the talents then sent to Alaska where they you know, there was essentially just a cross border. I don’t know, bounty collection that wasn’t really valid if they were trying to eradicate or reduce populations in Alaska. But then, as Charlie Munger said, Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome. But let’s talk about that issue of the Native Americans in the spirit bird. It’s really one of the great contrasts in the book between this centuries long affinity affiliation, identification of Native American tribes, and many of them and you document it more thoroughly than any any anywhere else that I’ve ever seen of all the different tribes that that saw the Eagles is important animals. And you know that in the 1500s, the keys to doors in New Mexico saw captured eagles. And in that they were that native tribes were keeping eagles. And that that went continued all the way through the 1800s. And I’m presumably even today that that’s the case. I know, I lived on Navajo land for a couple of years, you know, more than 40 years ago, and I remember going to a small zoo with a friend of mine who was actually an Apache, and we there was a golden eagle in the cage there and he said, Hey, you know, are you Mr. Eagle? Are you gonna give me a feather today? And but that the importance of the feathers, the importance of the symbol itself to native tribes didn’t change at all. Whereas with the US, we went through these just massive as a as the public or as you know, Americans in general, went through this massive shift in how they viewed the bird. How do you describe that? It’s how do you account for that wild swing in the identification of the bird is the the image being accepted, but the actual physical bird not being accepted in American culture? Right.
Jack E. Davis 19:27
Well, there are a couple of paradoxes there. You know, I had that title, or that chapter title verta paradox, right. One is that, you know, when Congress did pass the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act, making the bald eagle the only individual species to have its own law, protecting it federal law, protecting it that acts outlawed traditional Native relationships with the bald eagle and criminalize their tradition. behavior of taking birds out of the wild Eagles out of the wild for ceremonial reasons. But also, in 1941, Congress passed that law. We were a year away from going to war once again, in Europe, to defeat fascist tyranny. And Congress recognize that if the living living bird behind this powerful symbol of freedom democracy, were to go staying because of our actions, that this would have been duplicitous, that it would have undermined the integrity of that symbol. And so Congress stepped forward to to try to save it with the bald eagle Protection Act. And there were many people who in the early 20th century, who saw that the bald eagle was going away, or the bison was going in the way of the Carolina Pyaar Ki with last which died 1918 And or the passenger pigeon, Alaska, which died 1914 And they didn’t want to see that happen. And but, you know, again, another historical irony is that ornithologists were even accusing wrongfully accusing Bald Eagles of all these crimes, and
Unknown Speaker 21:22
including kidnapping babies. I mean, this was the shooting.
Jack E. Davis 21:26
Mothers were warned, don’t leave your infants unattended outdoors unless you want a bald eagle to steal it away to its nest. In ornithologists are saying that this happened. The National Audubon Society the early 20th century would not take a stand to protect the bald eagle would not take a stand against the the Alaska bounty. And, and so many people just saw this is you know, for the most influential in the best funded conservation organization devoted to bird protection. They couldn’t they, they couldn’t see anything more hypocritical than than that and choosing your birds you want to say. But, and so this wonderful woman by the name of Rosalie edge, who was a Audubon member, who pushed Audubon to protect the bald eagle and when they wouldn’t, she founded the Emergency Conservation Committee to expose the you know, the duplicity within the Audubon Society and push for federal protection for the bald eagle.
Robert Bryce 22:35
Is you say Audubon Society. It reminds me in the book you profile John James Audubon who had a remarkable career and born in Haiti, as you point out and then had three different names or was it Dominican Republic? Forgive me, um, was he born in Haiti? Or was it Dominican Republic and my memories failing
Jack E. Davis 22:52
it? Well, it was it wasn’t the Haiti yet. It was about to become and that’s when he moved to France, his father moved in.
Robert Bryce 22:57
Okay, right. So there’s been a lot of history and looking at Audubon, and the fact that he killed so many birds and so on, but that he didn’t, he was no friend of the bald eagle either, right? He didn’t and in and you write about how he had copied and forgive me, I’ve forgotten the name, you go through several different artists of that time about what how they drew the bald eagle. But Audubon, as you say was not it wasn’t like, like, Franklin was not necessarily a big fan of the eagle talk about that for a minute, if you don’t mind.
Jack E. Davis 23:29
Now on John James, my odd one despise the bald eagle, for the reasons that Franklin claimed he did, because it was a scavenger and a thief. And he, you know, in one sense, he would call the bald eagle noble. And in another sentence, he would, he would refer to it as a reprehensible bird. And, and he didn’t want the bald eagle to be the national symbol. But he did, in fact, want the wild turkey to be the representative of as he wrote, quote, unquote, my country. And, and he, the artists or the other ornithologists that he may have plagiarized was was Alexander Wilson, who was his contemporary but also a predecessor into publishing a major ornithological work of North American birds. And they became they became rivals and but the other thing that’s interesting about Audubon is he believes he discovered a third Eagle species only two Eagle species nest in the wild in in the in the North America. That’s the bald eagle on the golden but he believed he he’d seen discovered a third one which he he named the bird of Washington and and he saw that for some reason he a believed that this bird was a noble bird and worthy in the name was ashington, but more than likely, were 99% sure that what he was seeing was juvenile bald eagles. And because they look, they look very similar to Golden Eagles often confused, they don’t have their, they have modeled white and dark feathers. And they don’t get their white hat and white tail until age four or five. And so but there is the size of an adult bald eagle even though they’re pre adults. And, and so he believed he found this third species. And he included it in his is portfolio. Birds of America,
Robert Bryce 25:41
right. So I was glad also to see in the book that you mentioned Hawk Mountain. I was there. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I’ve been there twice. As I mentioned, I’m an avid birdwatcher. And it’s a marvelous place. And I’m a longtime critic of the wind business, you mentioned wind energy in passing, and I went up there, and this is several weeks back, and I thought, man, what an amazing view. And I got to the top and I put something on Twitter about it. I made a short video and I got up there and I thought it because it is incredible the views from on top of the farms and you can see for miles and miles and I looked around I thought, boy, if only there were some wind turbines around here that really helped. Then I look to the north and where is their long line and wind turbines on the route on the ridge to the north northeast. But Hawk Mountain plays an important role in the in Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. Talk about that, and why, how what Hawk Mountain was founded in 1934, the world’s first sanctuary dedicated to the preservation of raptors. Why was it important in terms of the history of the bald eagle and to Rachel Carson’s work in Silent Spring?
Jack E. Davis 26:48
So hog Mountain was founded by Rosalie yet she mentioned earlier started the Emergency Conservation Committee. And she
Unknown Speaker 27:00
didn’t mention it’s in Pennsylvania. But
Jack E. Davis 27:03
yeah, it’s Yeah, Central Pennsylvania. And she found in it because it’s a major thoroughfare of migrating raptors. And it had become a happy hunting ground for many people knew about this and a climb at the top of Hawk Mountain, which is about a 3030, maybe 40 minute hike up, and they were shooting Raptors out of the sky just for the fun of it. And so she created this the sanctuary to prevent that from happening. And it is I refer to it as the I 95 of migrating Raptors on the East Coast. And so ever since the founding of Hawk Mountain People have maintained a migration census of raptors and, and so in the 1950s, Hawk mountains, bird count or annual migration count was important to understanding what was happening to the bird life because with DDT taking its toll on American wildlife and getting into the the food chain, those those raptor migrations to grow thinner and thinner each year. So Rachel Carson actually used the records from Hawk Mountain as an example of decline, you know, a recorded example of declining bird populations. And yeah, yeah, and I write up right about that in the book, as you mentioned, and I really enjoyed, I’ve been a Hawk Mountain too. And it’s an inspiring place, as you very nicely described, and I’d love to writing about Hawk Mountain and that, that whole history, it’s one of my favorite favorite places and high high high regard for for a Hawk Mountain and the folks that run it,
Robert Bryce 28:53
it well, I was there with my wife, Lauren, it was on our anniversary June 7, and we got caught in a rainstorm. We didn’t have any rain gear, we got soaked to the bone but, but still an incredible just the view from the on top and the the depths of the density of the woods there. But our remarkable breathtaking, it’s about two hours north of Philadelphia. But you point out that in 1963, which would be of 18 years after DDT is brought on to the market, but only 20 bald eagles were counted there. That was the year after Silent Spring was published. And I remember seeing on the bird talent when I was there. I don’t know whether it was red shoulders or sharp shins, but they counted over 300 Hawks in one day, right. So that Yeah, but it was a way that the legacy of Rosalie edge, founding the Hawk Mountain and keeping a census and that tabulating the birds that had migrated through there then became a critical metric where where Carson could then go back and say well, look, see there’s so there’s there’s a clear decline I’m in the species over time. So, which brings us back to DDT. And you and you point this out that that DDT was responsible for decimating wildlife because of the effect it had on the shells and of the eggs in the nest. You know, conservatives like to point out, and I’ve heard, in fact, I heard this argument just the other day, oh, DDT, you know, and she was banned. And you know, it caused all these human lives to be lost, because it was, you know, effective on malaria. But why was it so devastating? What was the I mentioned, the shell, the eggs, and which parts? Why was it so devastating in the continental US and which parts of the US were spared, because that was the other part of the, the the recovery of the bald eagle was that there were some regions that didn’t, didn’t have that weren’t as affected by DDT, as others tell, tell us about that.
Jack E. Davis 30:47
But it generally it was, it was most its impact was greatest generally, in agricultural parts of the United States, but also not just agricultural parts, but also places that were connected by waterways, to agricultural regions, such as Mississippi and Alabama were devastated there’s agriculture, but they also receive river flow from the Midwestern states, which is much larger agricultural region. And so anything put down on the ground at Washington to stream ends up down south and on into the Gulf of Mexico and passing through the states on the way. And Alaska was not a was rare, wasn’t affected so greatly by DDT, because there’s not a lot of agriculture up in, in Alaska, same with many parts of Canada. And so, but we used it excessively, I mean, I mean, we use it carelessly, and, and excessively without, with very little regard to what was happening to the rest of the world. The chemical industry, as the tobacco industry in later years control the narrative around DDT and other pesticides and herbicides. We were not just living in the Atomic Age, we were living in the chemical age, after World War Two, many of these chemicals came out of World War Two, including DDT. And DDT really did have some issues. Many people maintain that, that World War Two is the first war and what fewer lives were lost to disease and to, to warfare itself. And DDT was instrumental in and controlling typhus during during World War Two. So it clearly saved a lot of lives. But DDT has also stolen a lot of lives. And I’m not just talking about wildlife, and I’ll come back to that too. There are now studies that are traced breast cancer to DDT and women who were three or two generations removed from, you know, a granddaughter whose grandmother was exposed to DDT. There are also studies that have connected linked DDT to Alzheimer’s. So, you know, boomers such as ourselves, who grew up with those DDT years, we carry that legacy with us. And but it had a devastating impact on on wildlife it gets into the food chain, gets into the fish, it goes horses way up to the food chain, Eagle catches a fish in the Eagles body, the DDT metabolizes into DD II, which made its way into the egg gland females impairing eggs at relayed or really reducing the number of eggs at relay and or the or even affecting the, the not just the strength of the egg shell, but also often having the impact on on the chick itself. And, you know, we talked about Rachel Carson in looking at the numbers that at Hawk Mountain. And you also as you know, I talked about in the book, this man by the name of Charles Broly, retired banker, he moved to Tampa in the 1930s. And as a hobby began climbing long leaf and loblolly pines to ban Eclipse and he did this nobody was doing this like systematically like who was doing this. It did it for 20 years till age 79. He was still climbing trees at age 79 banding egoless and he noticed that in Florida he was doing this mainly in Florida but also Canada. He noticed that the eagle population in Florida in the 50s was declining precipitously. And he was one of the first people to Link that decline to DDT and Rachel Carson talks about it in Silent Spring.
Robert Bryce 35:08
And so it just expand on that, if you don’t mind because Silent Spring was became then one of the, the seminal books for American environmentalism. How, how big was that effect of that book? I know, it’s a little bit off topic here. But it was one of the, I mean, it was a key was a key turning point, though, in American environmentalism in the environmental movement in America, wasn’t it?
Jack E. Davis 35:31
Yes, I would say that, you know, it was it was an awakening for the general public, but also for policymakers in Washington, Rachel Carson before Silent Spring was a best selling author. And a favorite author, a nature writer, somebody scientists, who could translate science into prose. And, and with with silence, spraying, she brought a greater awareness, not a new awareness, necessarily, but a greater awareness to the devastating impact of the use excessive use of pesticides and herbicides, she never said, we should stop using chemicals, you just said we need to be safe about it. And somebody else besides the chemical industry needs to control the narrative. And so it was, I mean, environmental activism was around before DDT for excuse me, Silent Spring, but silent spraying, help rev things up. And, you know, because it became a best seller itself. And she was attacked by the chemical industry and egregiously attacked by by the chemical industry, which just brought more more attention to her book.
Robert Bryce 36:48
Well, and that was in part as you point out, because she was a woman and men, but she had worked at Fish and Wildlife Service as well. So she had the she had the credentials, but because she was a woman, and at an age where there weren’t many women scientists, that was also part of the one of the reasons clearly in retrospect, why she was attack.
Jack E. Davis 37:11
And now let me add to that, she can not only when she was woman, she was a woman who had never married and never had children. And so therefore, she was a spinster. And there was one side, at least one scientist said, what does she know about future generations? You know, she’s just a spinster.
Robert Bryce 37:28
Times have changed, and then I guess some ways not. So we talked about DDT and the fact that Alaska wasn’t as affected. And so the populations of bald eagles in the Alaska did not decline nearly that to the extent that they did here in the continental US. And you point out that in the lower 48, that at one point, there were the population was down to less than 500 nesting pairs. And then the remarkable recovery. So you had that we had the you mentioned before the the we talked to a Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which was passed in 1918. But then the key issue was then the key protection for the eagle was the 1940 eagle bald eagle Protection Act, which then in 1962, became the bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act if memory serves that the recovery then from DDT was the part of the story that I think is the one you point out that there’s this redemption, right that they we pulled back from the edge of extinction. And Alaska doesn’t play a big as big a role as Florida and Oklahoma. So explain. I’m a native of Tulsa, I’m proud of being from Oklahoma, explained the Sutton center I knew for a long time about the Sutton center in bulk in Bartlesville. About its role in the recovery of the bald eagle, but explain if you will, the it was eggs from bald eagles in Florida that get that go to Oklahoma and then are sent around the country. Explain that if you would, please.
Jack E. Davis 38:54
Yeah, so let me preface that by saying 1972 was a watershed year for bald eagles. EPA banned the sale of DDT in the US. It added Raptors to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it toughen the penalty for harming bald eagles and golden eagles as well. But also 19 7250 years ago, this October, Congress passed the the Clean Water Act, which ultimately led to the cleanup of our habitat, but also the watery habitat of bald eagles. So with those chess pieces in place, including the Endangered Species Act of 1973, US Fish and Wildlife launched Eagle restoration programs across the country in the bicentennial. 1976. And
Robert Bryce 39:43
if I can just interrupt because I think you make another point about 1972. This happens during the Nixon administration and, and William William Ruckelshaus was one of the leaders there and went actually beyond what a lot of people expected. And so it’s one of the the you know, I mean, the facts are the facts right, but It was that that was a pivotal moment pivotal year and it was under a Republican administration. And to me, that’s just interesting to point out because there when it comes down to conservation, it should be a really a bipartisan issue. And we that’s a lot of that’s been lost. But I’ve just wanted to make that quick point.
Jack E. Davis 40:16
Yeah. And it definitely was, and in Congress in 90 in the early 1970s, when a whole stream of environmental laws were passed, and the Clean Water Act was passed, with us very strong by bipartisan support, overriding within hours, President Nixon’s veto, which is a bit of a surprise, because Nixon didn’t usually veto environmental legislation. And William Ruckelshaus is who he appointed to be the administrator, which is the head person and BPA, took a very brave move to ban the sale of DDT. There’s a lot of pressure on him not to ban DDT. Now Nixon did support the ban, or at least the sale of DDT in the United States. And, but then 1976 Fish and Wildlife in partnership with with state wildlife officials launches restoration programs all over the country. They’re the hacking programs in many parts. There’s there’s a incubation program, fertilization program in Ohio, but in the South, in the southeast. I should say that there are northern bald eagles in southern bald eagles. They some people say they’re, they’re different subspecies. Some people say there’s different gene pools. But in any case, northern bald eagles can’t live in the south in the summer and they just can’t handle the heat. They’re bigger. Southern bald eagles prefer the south they’ll migrate north in the summer, but then they’ll come back south. And and so the states and the south by the 1970s, with the exception of Florida, had no nesting bald eagles, Alabama, Tennessee, none Georgia, maybe one on the occasional year Mississippi none the Carolinas maybe one or two on the occasional year Oklahoma. No nesting bald eagles, Arkansas nesting bald eagles. Florida is the only southern state so they couldn’t take bald eagles out of Alaska relocated to the South because they couldn’t take the heat or anywhere else up north Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Florida had still had a fairly healthy population but not healthy enough to give up birds to these other southern states. So what the George Sutton Center did under the leadership of Steve Gerrard who is still at the Sutton center. And it was his idea to do this. He said let’s take a eggs out of nest of Florida bald eagles, bring them up to Oklahoma incubate them on our hands, raised them in until they’re five, five or six weeks old, and then relocate that will do this. Blind we won’t let them imprint on humans. And then let’s relocate them to hack boxes and Mississippi and Alabama and the other southern states where they would be raised in these giant outdoor lions cages on stilts as I call them imprint on the territory. And then at 12 weeks approximately 12 weeks they would be released when they can fledge and fly on their own. And were bald eagles the territory bald eagles imprint on becomes their natal territory, and they returned to their natal territory at breeding age to build their own nest. And so Florida bald eagles ended up giving up donating 275 eggs to the cause with 100% hatch rate in Oklahoma by the way, so cheers to your state there Robert 100% Six Hajra isn’t that extraordinary? And you know having to transport these eggs to Oklahoma from Florida. But the bald eagles lose in Florida last though population because they would take both eggs out of a national or however many there were they’re usually two and early on certain soon after they were laid. And what the female does is will lay a second flush they will lay new eggs. And so the bald eagle population in Florida remained stable and continued to rise and bald eagles. So now when you see nesting bald eagle in Alabama and Mississippi, there’s a good chance that is a descendant of a Florida bald eagle. And this happened around I’m University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, North Central Florida. It was that area that of quality that the eggs were taken from. So I didn’t know any of this until I sat down in research and wrote this book
Robert Bryce 44:59
and It’s a remarkable story of dedication of the people who were doing this and living with the Eagles and sometimes in you know, and feeding the baby eagles in these hack boxes mile you know what I would say miles above the ground, but I don’t have my notes in front of me but some of the but some of the other successful you call them hack boxes and weed today we think about hacking in computer terms, but this was hacking the wildlife growth policy, the growth of wildlife, but the other was was it Quabbin reservoir and Massachusetts this was the other side of of great success. And so remind me now I don’t I just read the book and I read it cover to cover. But this is one details your book. This detail. Where did those Eagles come from? For the for the Massachusetts?
Jack E. Davis 45:47
Yeah, so they came from this is the 1980s and they they came from some came from Michigan. Some some came from Canada, and some came from from Alaska. Okay, and so those birds, Maine was an only New England state in the 1970s that had any nesting bald eagles. None of the New England states had bald eagles. And so fish and wildlife along with mass wildlife set up the the hacking program in Quabbin reservoir, which is the water source for Boston, Boston metropolitan area, by the way, and, and those birds ended up repopulating the New England states. And right here, I’m in New New Hampshire. Now we’re having a second home as I mentioned earlier, and on the lake, the next lake over from my lake is the oldest bald eagle living in at least that we’re aware of living in New Hampshire. And it is a descendant of the Quabbin eagles. And so if I see a bald eagle flying overhead, it could very well be a descendant of some of the Eagles. I write about my book, which gives me great pleasure to think about that.
Robert Bryce 47:00
It is remarkable success story of this, how wildlife biologists figured out how to bring the bird back and that it was because it was on the precipice of complete collapse the whole population. So that was Florida eagles, Florida nests, then were used through the Florida Oklahoma connection to repopulate eagles in the south. And then it was mainly eagles and Canadian eagles, then those eggs and eagles were then distributed along in the northeastern states and then that they repopulated but you make this point to about just the the, the survival the survival instinct of the eagle itself that it was there something that just that shone through as well, in addition to this incredible dedication from this huge number of some volunteers, people living in extreme conditions and and not not very nice circumstances, so dedicated to bringing the Eagles back. You mentioned Rosalie edge and some of the others and Charles Broly. The other one was
Jack E. Davis 48:06
a horse maker.
Robert Bryce 48:09
There you go. Thank you, Doris maker whose name was familiar to me talk about her if you don’t mind.
Jack E. Davis 48:14
Yeah, I should also point out in the 1980s and 70s and 80s you see the urgency of emergence of rapid rehabilitation in educational centers all around the country. And we have to give those those folks underpaid staff volunteers, great credit for what they did and what they continue to do. And they’re their heroes, every one of the doors, Magar started the first Raptor Rehabilitation Program in the 1970s. In in Florida, in her backyard, by the way, she was connected with Florida Audubon. And in 1979, she climbed the loblolly pine, he lived in an abandoned eagle’s nest for six days to bring awareness to the plight of the bald eagle but also to raise funds for the eagle rehabilitation. Even Paul Harvey talked about her. And as a point of she, she drew national attention. And this is a woman who at age 60, in 1986, biked from San Diego to the east coast of Florida, sponsored by Kmart stores, and stopped and Kmart stores along the way, and gave lectures in the parking lots about the importance of rappers in our ecosystem. And, and she devoted her life as many have done to educating schoolchildren, anybody who wanted to listen to civic organizations, about the importance of rafters and she’s, you know, probably hundreds of 1000s of people she’s spoken to over the years. She did this into her 90s right she was still giving these these public
Robert Bryce 50:00
lecturers driving a van around with an owl and an eagle if I recall in the in the van and making these circuits across the country and I saw one Peter reznicek, I believe is his last name. I don’t have it at hand, but he has a bird rehab center in outside of Denver. And I’ve written about mo now it’s more than 30 years ago for Texas Monthly woman named Mitch Erskine who lived in Midland who was a bird real bird rehabber bringing in this question, but why is this so why is this bird so powerful? And I you write in one section of the book let me find it because to me it’s it’s a it’s a really important point that you make you say, Americans had begun to make this isn’t your epilogue. And by the way, a station break here, my guest is Jack Davis. He’s the author of the bald eagle the improbable journey of America’s bird. You see, America’s had begun to make connections with bald eagles then went beyond the patriotic symbol and rescued species. Doris maker said that whenever she looked into the eyes of a bald eagle, something spiritually something, quote, spiritually, something took over on a southwestern GEORGIA FARM where chickens had been lifted toward heaven without end will Harris said he could never harm a bald eagle, quote, there is just something spiritual about it. Such connections countered the false separation that Western society wedged between the conspicuousness of humans and non human species, and manifested a profound awareness of the mysteries of an animal’s life. Awareness could be deep and life changing. What is it about this? I think there’s a lot of power in birds, you know, all birds, but there’s something about raptors in particular and eagles yet more So partly because of their size and the power of what they are. But what is it about him that we talked about Native American tribes in the spiritual connection there? What is that about? How do you describe that? Where does that deep connection that’s spiritual, something come from?
Jack E. Davis 51:54
Yeah. You know, they’re, as you know, they’re very charismatic birds raptors, generally, and the bald eagle with its Whitehead and white feathers. And they convey quality qualities or traits that we tend to associate culturally with ourselves, you know, bravery, courage, strength and freedom, as well. And they are the ultimate Free Birds aren’t they, they, they really don’t bald eagles really don’t have any predators outside of, of humans. And, and so I think it makes it easy, or for us to identify with raptors and bald eagles in particular, because of that, that charisma. And also, as I mentioned, at the beginning of the program, you know, generation of us, grew up without bald eagles, you know, this living symbol, this living bird behind this really powerful symbol United States. And so, you know, now that we see them, we were fascinated by them. We’re more aware than what earlier generations were about the human connection with the natural world. That’s one thing. We’re better educated, we know how ecosystems work. The science of ecology is very young science compared to many other sciences. And, you know, I, you know, going to school in the 1960s and 70s. I never heard the word ecology. It just wasn’t taught, right science classes, and now it is. And, but also, we’ve learned that the bald eagle I think, as I point out that God is willing to live with us and that’s something scientists didn’t think it would. The restoration of bald eagle exceeded everybody’s expectations, including wildlife officials and scientists who were involved in restoration. And in that in part because the balding will say hey, we will Nast on your at your golf course we will nest in your on your school campuses in your gated community. And and and so they’ve shown that they’re willing to live with us. And we really like it. We like it when a bald eagle deaths there us. There are obviously exceptions. But and so when we see a bald eagle across the sky, that’s really a pat on our back to, to what we’ve how we’ve changed, that we’ve done something right by nature. And it’s something we can really be proud of. But also, we can’t discount the impact of Eagle Nest cams. There’s some Eagle Nest Cam 50 of them around North America. hugely, hugely popular. It’s done. They’ve done a lot to educate people to win the hearts of Americans. They have new international audiences. They’re probably the most Popular wildlife cam in the world, bald eagle nest cams. And, you know, we’ve just really fallen in love with this bird. And not only is it taught us something about itself, but about nature and about ourselves. And so I think that’s it. That’s what moves us. And, you know, it’s a it’s a bird that is emblematic of, of nature. And, and it helps us appreciate not just the bird, but also nature itself.
Robert Bryce 55:34
There’s something elemental there, but that was but as you’re saying, There’s something about though, that that connection you’re talking about is something that American culture Anglo culture, fell away from comes back to, but the native cultures had that for centuries, and still, that there was something deep in the, in the nature of the bird itself that they saw that was the power of the bird that that motivated them to put it in, you know, to capture it to that as you as you point out a spirit and spirit animal for multiple tribes across the continent. And so I kind of answered the one question and that kind of answered one of the questions I have here is about why birds are so powerful. But let me let me ask you about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the MBTA. Was it should the should the bald eagle have been delisted, you write about the Endangered Species Act and the push to delist it. And then a lot of environmental groups pushed for the D listing. And that there were some timing issues around that shouldn’t have been delisted.
Jack E. Davis 56:36
Oh, I think so clearly, yes. I mean, by 2007 when it was delisted, that the population was healthy again, once again in lower 48 actually by 1999. But bureaucratic inertia and Washington delay deal with the list until 2007. It was important to conservation groups that the bald eagle be delisted. You know, because it was healthy again, but also because it was evidenced that the the Endangered Species Act works. And so the success of the bald eagle was indicative of potential success for other species listed. And, and, you know, look at you know, in the 2010, the bald eagle population quadrupled. Now I should point out the bald eagle, it’s truly an All American bird. So the ideal bird to go the Great Seal the United States, it lives in only in North America or in the wild. Only in North America is truly an All American.
Unknown Speaker 57:40
Where’s, where’s the where’s the golden has found around the world where the
Jack E. Davis 57:44
golden is found around the northern hemisphere. That’s exactly right. But and there’s some 16 Eagle species around the world. But we were the only ones that have the bald eagle. Right, and and the bald eagle population during the 2000 10s Quadruple. And today the population continent wide is approximately 500,000, which is equal to the estimated size of the population When Europeans first came to North America. And so to me, that’s just this great American conservation success story that we can attribute to ourselves or changing attitudes what we did for the bald eagle but also I don’t want to leave this out. You touched on it just earlier, the bald bald eagles themselves. They have the what I refer to as the ideal family values they made for life. They maintain a fidelity to the same NASS as long as that nest exists. And, and they raise their young was such devotion they feed them so well, that when they leave their natal territory between 16 and 20 weeks of age, they often weigh more than their parents.
Robert Bryce 58:59
Wow. Well, you mentioned that how much the even how one of the caretakers and one of the hack boxes just work itself out cutting up the food so that the Eagles or young eagles would have enough to eat. You mentioned in passing and I’ve been critical and am critical of the wind industry because of the bald eagle issue and the eagle kill issue. You mentioned that in passing. What are your thoughts to those people who say though, well, the wind industry is only killing a few eagles, because it was just in in April, the Department of Justice prosecuted NextEra Energy after they put intentionally put intentionally put wind turbines in the middle of known golden and bald eagle habitat. What’s your take on that?
Jack E. Davis 59:38
I think that is a wholly irresponsible other part of that corporation and whereas you know the I talked about Duke Energy in in the book and Duke Energy’s website at top of the top of the world website in Wyoming, where they have installed artificial intelligence technology that has been exceedingly effective. They’ve reduced bald and Golden Eagle death, by well over 80%. And I interviewed the main individual at Duke Energy behind that a wildlife biologist who was actually involved in with Eagle restoration in Indiana in the 1980s. So he’s very much dedicated to what he’s doing Duke Energy is to. And so they’ve had great success rate. There’s really no excuse for the wind industry to to kill birds and huge numbers with the technology that is available out there.
Robert Bryce 1:00:47
Yeah, it clearly it’s complicated issue and, but it’s part of this kind of green Halo is Dustin Mulvaney align his description around wind and solar, there was this green Halo. And then because they’re renewable, well, that may be the case. But it was clear and the Department of Justice’s own press release reads like an indictment of next era and what they did. But I’ll just add, Duke was also prosecuted, one of the only companies, other companies are prosecuted for killing eagles. And it’s good to know, I didn’t know about what you had said, what you pointed out about the AI system, which is clearly what’s going to need to happen if they’re going to continue building these wind turbines throughout the West. But so a couple of last questions. And again, my, my guess is, as Jack Davis, he wants you to buy his new book, The bald eagle, the improbable journey of America’s bird. So you won the Pulitzer Prize? I have it. How did that change your life? Did it? Or did it change your life? What was that? I mean, it’s not the Nobel Prize, right? You haven’t cured cancer, but it’s a big deal? Or am I just imagining how big of a deal was it to you?
Jack E. Davis 1:01:50
It was a it was a big deal. It did change my life. And I how so? Well, I mean, I’ll always be known as the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jack Davis, you know, that’s how I’m introduced. And I gave a lot of a lot of public talks. And it put me in great demand to give public talks and in, in, put a demand on me in other ways, too. And, you know, and I,
Robert Bryce 1:02:19
such as but what do you mean in other ways.
Jack E. Davis 1:02:23
For instance, you know, I’ve given some 150 public talks on the Gulf of Mexico. And, you know, the the Pulitzer Prize carried over to this book, you know, says right on the front of the bald eagle, Pulitzer Prize winner, Jack E. Davis, I’ve given that book came out March one, I’ve given over 50 talks on the bald eagle, the bald eagle has a lot to do with that, you know, gives you a certain street cred, you know, that you didn’t, you didn’t have before. And people suddenly respect your opinion, in ways and ways they may be respect for my students. And maybe think you’re smarter than mediate. And but it’s, it’s, to me, the Pulitzer Prize is really about the Gulf Gulf of Mexico. You know, I wrote that book, because I felt as though that the ghosts, true identity be stolen by so many tragic hurricanes and oil spills, and that there was much more to the Gulf than what the media and the general public understood. And so I wanted to introduce them to the golf and let them know that all Americans are connected to the golf both historically and ecologically whether you’ve seen the golfer or not. And so the Pulitzer Prize brought some good, some positive publicity to the Gulf of Mexico. For a change, I think,
Robert Bryce 1:04:00
yeah, well, the Gulf is, it’s a remarkable region, and for a lot of different reasons, but I’m going to have to read that book next. I suppose. So are you writing another book do you have now I’ve written a few books myself, and people ask me that I’m like, oh, man, don’t ask me that question. But I’m gonna put you on the spot. Are you working on something else? I’m sure you’re glad to have this one out. But I have to ask the question.
Jack E. Davis 1:04:22
Yeah, I haven’t finalized anything yet. I know I want to write about environmental successes, on some level, because again, as I said earlier, I think that we’re people are growing a bit fatigued by all the doom and gloom and they started to shut him down and there’s plenty and there’s plenty, a lot of that. And when I tell you know, when I tell people that when I’m going to write about environmental successes, they’re they light up their faces just light up. And these are not necessarily you know, tree huggers or birders I’m talking to it and they say, Oh, God, that’d be so wonderful. You have, please do that, please do that. And in there are plenty of environmental successes and which is not to, you know, suggest that we haven’t had this horrific relationship historically with with with, with with the environment, but we’ve gotten some things right. And I think we don’t raise our kids in a negative way or most of us don’t raise our kids in a negative environment. We raised them with positive reinforcement, right. And I think, you know, the general public needs positive reinforcement from time to time to.
Robert Bryce 1:05:37
Yeah, I like that idea. Because there is a lot of a joke that, you know, can the world get any crazier after COVID, and now the Russia invasion, and now inflation and recession and all these other things that people are desperate for some good news? Sorry, what are you reading? I know, You’ve written books, I, you know, I’ve done a couple of myself and what’s on your bookshelf? What are you reading these days.
Jack E. Davis 1:05:59
So at the moment, I’m reading this new book out, and I’m gonna grab it real quick, okay. So just out the Taylor, Robbie’s book, boys in oil, growing up gay in fractured land. And he does a beautiful job. He grew up in North Dakota, in coal country, North Dakota, and he does just this beautiful job of weaving together his story with with, with the natural environment. And in his in his home state, and how the environment affected him, but also, you know, how it became an escape for him, grilling me at a time when being gay was not acceptable, particularly in such a masculine place, like coal country, nor North Dakota, beautiful writer, he’s a poet. But he’s written this beautiful book. So that’s on my nightstand right now.
Robert Bryce 1:07:05
Gotcha. And so last question. And you’ve you’ve kind of touched on this a little bit, Jack, but what makes you optimistic, what gives you hope for the future?
Jack E. Davis 1:07:16
You know, looking back in history and seeing those, you know, digging up those positive examples, you know, the, the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the Clean Water Act of 1972, just majorly important, life changing legislation for all of us. Great, great success stories there, where the air we breathe today, so much cleaner, thanks to the Clean Air Act. And so there are these examples from the past, but also I have hope, because you know, the millennials and in the Gen z’s, they’re not happy with the environmental legacy that we’re handing down to them, and they’ve had enough of this, then they’re smart enough to know that when you know, when nature is wild and in active and healthy, then we are we are also healthy. They very much understand the connection between human quality of life and, you know, a clean environment. And so I think that they, they’re going to change things. They’re going to set the country on a new course. That’s my help.
Robert Bryce 1:08:34
Well, that’s that’s a good place to stop. So my guest has been Jack Davis, buy his new book. It is quite remarkable. I highly recommend it. I read it cover to cover and I don’t read a lot of books cover to cover. The book is the bald eagle the improbable journey of America’s bird. Jack. Thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast.
Jack E. Davis 1:08:52
Really enjoyed it, Robert.
Robert Bryce 1:08:54
Thanks for having me. And thanks to all you for tuning in to this episode of the power hungry podcast until the next one. See you