ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
(Soundbite of American bald eagle call)
BRAND: That squeaking is actually from a mighty American bald eagle. Today, Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne announced the eagle is no longer threatened with extinction.
Secretary DICK KEMPTHORNE (U.S. Department of the Interior): It's my honor to announce the Department of the Interior's decision to remove the American bald eagle from the endangered species list.
BROOKS: When the eagle went on the list back in the '60s, there were only about 400 pairs left. Today, government biologists say, there are nearly 10,000 nesting pairs of eagles, including at least one pair in each of the lower 48 states.
I spoke earlier with Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation. He had just finished exercising his bald eagle, Challenger, in front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Mr. AL CECERE (President, American Eagle Foundation): Challenger is a 16-year-old male bald eagle that was blown out of a nest in a storm when he was only about five weeks of age - didn't have all of his feathers, not fully grown. But some people found him and rescued him and hand-raised him. They tried to release him into the wild but he was so human-imprinted by the feeding by humans that he could no longer survive in the wild. He thinks he's a person.
BROOKS: He thinks he's a person. Al, tell us how you got involved in this campaign to save and restore the American bald eagle.
Mr. CECERE: Well, I was just an average American citizen working in the entertainment production business in Nashville. And I saw an Associated Press photograph in a Tennessean newspaper that depicted two dozen eagles that had been shot in the Dakotas. That was two dozen birds laying side by side in this photograph. And it really had a powerful impact on my heart and soul, and I just couldn't understand why anybody would shoot an eagle.
And in 1983, I formed the Save The Eagle campaign off my kitchen table as a citizen's effort. We've come a long way and accomplished a lot.
BROOKS: The fact that the eagle is coming off of the endangered species list, does that mean the work is all done, or what challenges remain?
Mr. CECERE: This is just the beginning of the recovery. We'll need to continue to monitor eagle nests for at least five years under the Endangered Species Act that requires that. But we'll need to continue programs to protect their habitat and do research on various diseases like West Nile and AVM that affect eagles.
There's just a whole host of programs that need to continue so that our national bird can soar strong and free for future generations to come.
BROOKS: Al, what makes the bald eagle such an appropriate symbol for this country in your view?
Mr. CECERE: Well, the eagle is just such a special bird. I honestly believe that God created the eagle to inspire our nation. Because wherever I travel with Challenger coast to coast, whether it's major league football games or schools, whether the people are young or old, rich or poor, they all react the same way: They're awestruck by this eagle when they see him up close.
And so I believe that God created it for our country, and to inspire us and be a symbol of what we need to stand for as a nation, which is our democracy and our spirit and our freedom.
BROOKS: I wanted to ask you one more question. You mentioned that you travel all around the country with Challenger. It sounds like he must be racking up some - a lot of frequent flyer miles.
Mr. CECERE: Oh, yeah. Challenger has well over 500,000 frequent flyer miles. But I lost track of that many years ago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BROOKS: Okay. Well, Al Cecere, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you to Challenger as well.
Mr. CECERE: You're very welcome.
BROOKS: That's Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation, speaking to us from in front of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. with his eagle Challenger.