To say that I have always possessed a high fascination for wildlife and most other things in the natural world would be a gross understatement. I was blessed to have grown up out in the country of northern Blair County, literally a stone's throw from forest, field and stream. For as long as I can remember, I've been attracted to all the bugs, birds, fish and other animals living in such places, either close to home or in some far-flung destination. And I'm happy to say my passion and appreciation for nature seems to grow stronger with each passing year.
As a youngster, however, I could have only dreamed of seeing a bald eagle in the wild anywhere in south-central Pennsylvania, much less is Blair County. Now that dream has not only become a reality but also a regular occurrence along many of the rivers and lakes in this region and throughout Pennsylvania.
Bald eagle populations declined dramatically throughout most of the first half of the 20th century from a number of causes such as pollution, habitat degradation and other forms of human persecution. By 1963, there were barely 400 pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, and sadly, our national symbol was a charter member of the endangered species list when President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law on Dec. 28, 1973. The low-water mark for bald eagles here in Pennsylvania came in 1983 when just three pairs of nesting eagles remained in the state, all of those in Crawford County.
But 1983 was also the beginning of restoration efforts for bald eagles in the Keystone State as young eagles were transferred from Saskatchewan and raised in the wild at Haldeman Island on the Susquehanna River just north of Harrisburg and at Shohola Lake in Pike County. Over the next seven years, Pennsylvania Game Commission personnel were able to transplant 88 young eagles from Canada, with those efforts funded in part by the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and the federal Endangered Species Fund. More important those young birds began to thrive and expand their numbers and range throughout the state to the extent that by 2005 we had about 100 nesting pairs and bald eagles were reclassified from "endangered" to "threatened" in Pennsylvania.
Similar restoration efforts were also conducted in many other states here in the Northeast and elsewhere with similar success, and the bald eagle was removed from the federal government's list of endangered species in 1995 and reclassified as a threatened species. The bald eagle was delisted in 2007 when more than 11,000 nesting pairs of eagles were estimated to exist in the lower 48 states.
The comeback of the bald eagle here in Pennsylvania continues strong as well, with a current estimate of 266 nests in 56 counties statewide. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Pennsylvania's bald eagle restoration efforts, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has produced a 22-minute documentary film, "Pennsylvania Bald Eagles, Celebrating 30 Years of Restoration" to tell this remarkable conservation success story. The film is scheduled to be screened at several sites around the state, including one here in our area hosted by the Juniata Valley Audubon Society at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library located at 526 Main St. in Bellwood on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. For more information on this event, visit www.jvas.org.
And one final bit of good news regarding bald eagles is the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Bureau of Wildlife Management plans to make a formal proposal to the Board of Game Commissioners at their quarterly meeting next week to upgrade the status of bald eagles, the first step in the process required in Pennsylvania to remove them from the state's list of threatened species.
Game Commission biologist Doug Gross said, "This year marks just another high point in the spectacular and widespread recovery of bald eagles in Pennsylvania, and it's clear that the definition of a threatened species no longer describes them accurately."
According to Pennsylvania's bald eagle management plan, four criteria must be met for five consecutive years to delist eagles as threatened. They are:at least 150 active nests statewide; successful nesting pairs in at least 40 counties; at least a 60 percent success rate of known nests; and productivity of at least 1.2 eaglets fledged per successful nest. This year marks the fifth consecutive year for successful nesting in at least 40 counties, which was the last of the condition that needed to be met to allow delisting eagles from threatened status.