The Channel Islands, an eight-island chain off the coast of Southern California, have served as nesting sites for a variety of birds, including the bald eagle. In the nineteenth century, the ranchers that settled on the islands considered the eagles a threat to their livestock. The ranchers killed off a lot of them. In addition, collectors furthered the eagle’s demise by taking eggs as souvenirs. Though these interventions decreased the birds’ population, their biggest threat came from the use of DDT in the early to mid-twentieth century. By 1980, no bald eagles remained in Southern California.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published her influential book Silent Spring. Carson explained how DDT and other toxins negatively affected ecosystems throughout the United States – particularly harming the reproduction of many bird species. Her book brought about an understanding of the way DDT affected the environment. Public response spawned a movement of environmental awareness that led to a ban on the use of DDT in 1972. At that time, there were just over 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles left in the country.
Wildlife biologist Dave Garcelon and his team devised plans to return the bald eagle to the Channel Islands. After several years of failed attempts, they finally met with success. In 2006, for the first time in more than half a century, a bald eagle chick hatched on Santa Cruz Island without human intervention or assistance. Their numbers continue to steadily increase.
This film offers a feel-good story about how our magnificent national symbol was ripped from the jaws of extinction by a highly committed team that worked incessantly to save the species. The film includes an eye-opening segment on the use of DDT, which uses vintage footage to show how clouds of the pesticide were sprayed over trees, fields, and lawns; the poison was considered perfectly safe at that time. Also in the video is a complementary story about the rise of golden eagles on Santa Cruz Island after the bald eagles were gone and the corresponding near extinction of the island fox – found only on the Channel Islands.
The DVD includes both a 14- and a 24-minute version of the documentary. The inspiring program is fast-moving and stunningly presented. It would be a wonderful video to use in biology, environmental science, and science-and-society classes at the middle school, high school, or college level. The directors present an outstanding example of how naturalists and scientists worked together over a long time to reverse an environmental catastrophe.