June 18, 2005

Thriving Bald Eagles May Lose Protection

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The population of bald eagles has rebounded so dramatically in Pennsylvania that the species may soon be moved off the state's endangered list and accorded the less serious status of a threatened species.

The state was down to three nesting pairs by 1980, all in Crawford County, but the nesting population currently numbers at least 92 pairs and their range extends to about one-third of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission will consider the change of status later this month, along with proposals to add two birds to the endangered list and move three from threatened to endangered.

Active bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania have averaged 1.4 offspring annually in recent years, and about 15 new nest sites have been discovered this year alone, said Game Commission wildlife biologist Dan Brauning, who supervises the wildlife diversity program.

Eagles are nesting in such areas as suburban Philadelphia that are outside their traditional strongholds along the Susquehanna River and in the wetlands of northwestern Pennsylvania.

"It's reflecting what has happened, the work that's gone into the species over many, many years, and I think it's a day to celebrate," Brauning said Friday.

The proposed changes would be the first revisions to Pennsylvania's endangered and threatened species lists in six years. Besides the decision on the bald eagle, there are also proposals to add blackpoll warblers and black-crowned night herons to the endangered list and reclassify as endangered dickcissels, sedge wrens and yellow-bellied flycatchers.

Birds proposed for the lists generally have low numbers and diminishing habitats.

Coalbed Swamp, a remote gameland near Noxen in Wyoming County, is home to many of the remaining blackpoll warblers and yellow-bellied flycatchers. There have only been two or three sedge wren sightings each year since 1996, and dickcissel nests are regularly found only in Cumberland and Adams counties.

There are currently 14 bird and mammal species on Pennsylvania's endangered list, which is similar to the federal list but covers only animals native to Pennsylvania. Eight species are on the state's threatened list and one native animal, the passenger pigeon, is listed as extinct.

"We're tweaking things a little finely here. For instance, the Carolina parakeet, on some people's lists, did occur in Pennsylvania, and it's extinct. But (there)'s not hard evidence that they nested here," Brauning said.

Animals on the lists are protected by state-funded conservation programs. There are additional criminal fines for killing them and their presence in an area can complicate or stop development and construction.