In 1782, our Founding Fathers designated the bald eagle as our national bird, and since the beginning of our nation, this magnificent bird has symbolized our country on everything from money to medals to the Great Seal of the United States.
In spite of granting them such revered status, our treatment of bald eagles over the next two centuries was nothing short of shameful. Eagles, along with other large predators such as wolves and mountain lions declined severely during the 1800s as settlement advanced rapidly throughout eastern North America.
Bald eagles were finally granted protection in 1940, but sparse populations and continued habitat loss put the species in peril. By 1963, estimates revealed only about 400 pairs of bald eagles were nesting in the lower 48 states.
The low-water mark for eagles in Pennsylvania came in 1983 when just three pairs of bald eagles were known to have nested around Crawford County. Fortunately, this was also the year that the Pennsylvania Game Commission launched its Eagle Recovery Project, which began with capturing young eagles in Saskatchewan and releasing them into the wild at various locations around the state. Gradually, these transplanted eagles established themselves and began to breed here as well.
Those efforts to restore bald eagles here and in many other states represent one of the greatest conservation success stories on record. In 1996, bald eagles were upgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" on the federal endangered species list and were removed from the endangered species list entirely in 2007. Although we now have in Pennsylvania about 200 nesting pairs of bald eagles in almost every county of the state, the Game Commission continues to classify bald eagles as a threatened species.
When I was teenager, I only dreamed about seeing a bald eagle in the wild and would never have imagined they would become a common sight here in our region. Throughout this past spring I was delighted not only to see bald eagles more often than usual but also in a variety of locations including Canoe Creek State Park, the Juniata River in Huntingdon County, the Little Juniata River, the Frankstown Branch, Spruce Creek and Penns Creek. I'm not sure how common bald eagles will have to become around here before the sight of one of these majestic birds gliding above the tree line becomes something less than thrilling. I hope never.
Seeing a bald eagle on the Fourth of July is always a special treat, and because I often go fishing on the Fourth, I've enjoyed that experience several times in recent years. If you plan being around the waterways of our area during the Independence Day holiday this week, be on the lookout for a sighting of our national bird. It beats enduring the crowds at some silly fireworks display for sure.
July 4 is also the second Fish-For-Free Day here in Pennsylvania, so if your holiday plans include spending time around the water, this is a great time to introduce a friend or family to fishing. If you happen to be one of those who left the sport in recent years or know someone who has, it is also a perfect opportunity for a reintroduction to the sport of fishing. Just remember that only the license requirement is waived. All other fishing laws and regulations are still in effect and must be complied with.
And speaking of licenses, it is already time to start thinking about applying for your doe license for this coming deer season. The first round of applications for residents will be accepted beginning next Monday, July 8. Nonresidents can apply beginning on Monday, July 29. The first opportunity to apply for unsold antlerless licenses for any WMUs that still have licenses remaining will be on Monday, Aug. 5.
The overall application procedure remains the same as in recent years, with your completed application and check being sent in one of those lovely pink envelopes to the county treasurer of your choice. Any county treasurer can process an antlerless license application for any WMU with license available.
Of course, to apply for a doe license you must already have your general hunting license, so make sure to stop by an issuing agent to buy one as soon as possible.
I've heard that the heavy volume of license buying during the weekend before the doe license deadline often causes temporary crashes of the electronic licensing system, so securing your license earlier in the week might avoid some potential hassle on that front.