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Imperiled Creatures Great and Small Dwell in D.C.

Bald Eagles on Anacostia's Shores, Crustaceans in Rock Creek Park's Springs Endure

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 23, 2004; Page B01

Among the nation's 1,265 endangered or threatened species, there are flies that whir among California sand dunes, geese that inhabit Hawaiian mountain slopes and a tiny fish found in a single pond in Nevada.

But only three have this distinction: The District of Columbia is listed as their home.


Bald eagles, such as the one pictured, have been spotted in recent years on Rosilie Island near the Maryland shore. Others have been seen nesting by the Anacostia River. (James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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Two of the three species -- the bald eagle and a tiny crustacean called the Hay's Spring amphipod -- can be found in the District, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which determines the list of endangered and threatened animals.

The third, the eastern cougar, hasn't been sighted in the District in two centuries, scientists say, and is believed to be extinct. But the big cat has found a niche in Washington's most labyrinthine wilderness, the federal bureaucracy. To the Fish and Wildlife Service, it remains endangered here.

The District's quirky threesome soon might be reduced to two if scientists decide that bald eagle populations have grown to the point that they can no longer be considered threatened. For the moment, though, the trio represents a microcosm of the nation's endangered species: Washington has a glamorous one, a gross one and a ghost.

The eagle, of course, is the glamourpuss. The birds lived in Washington until the late 1940s, then left a nest over the Anacostia River because of pollution in the water, said Craig Koppie, an eagle specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The fish all died, so they couldn't feed their young," said Bob Nixon, chairman of the board of the Earth Conservation Corps. The group, which works to improve the Anacostia River and draws volunteers from city neighborhoods, began bringing young eagles from Wisconsin to the District in 1995.

In 2000, a pair of eagles settled into an 80-foot-high nest in an Anacostia oak. The spot is good for birds -- it's close to fishing grounds on both the Anacostia and Potomac rivers -- but it makes for an incongruous picture. The nest overlooks St. Elizabeths Hospital, Ballou Senior High School and the D.C. Council campaign office of Marion Barry.

"That was amazing to me that the eagle was nesting right there," said Twan Woods, 28, a Southeast Washington native who monitored the birds this year for the conservation corps.

Eagle watchers are hopeful that more will come soon. Nixon noted that osprey are recolonizing the Anacostia River, and he said there were reports of eagles casing Kingman Island there. "I think there's another pair that's looking to set up shop upstream," he said.

The bald eagle was put on the federal endangered species list in 1967, but it has rebounded well across the country and is now listed as "threatened."

Fish and Wildlife officials say they soon might take the eagle off the national list. While it would lose the status of a threatened species, which carries prohibitions on capturing the animal or destroying its habitat, scientists say the bald eagle still would have some federal protection.

It's harder to measure the progress of the Hay's Spring amphipod -- an eyeless white crustacean whose only habitats in the world are in the District, scientists say.

The amphipod, which usually grows to a quarter- or a half-inch long, resembles a tiny shrimp with legs like dental floss. It lives in six seeps, or oozy springs, in Rock Creek Park and on the grounds of the National Zoo.


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