PA Audubon: 'No concerns' about downlisting bald eagle

This undated photo released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission shows two bald eagles with an eaglet at Raystown Lake near Huntingdon, Pa. When Pennsylvania officials launched a campaign in 1983 to re-establish the state's bald eagle population, only 3 pairs of the birds and 12 eaglets remained here. Now in 2006, there are more than 100 bald eagle nests in the state for the first time in over a century. (AP Photo/ Pennsylvania Game Commission, Hal Korber)

Last week, I wrote about the Pennsylvania Game Commission's plans to downlist the bald eagle. New Jersey may take similar steps, beginning its process next year.

All of this is a testament to restoration efforts, cleaner streams and the environment's gradual recovery from DDT and similar pesticides.

Today, Paul Zeph, director of conservation for Audubon Pennsylvania, said his organization had "no concerns" about the plan. 

"The eagle is doing extremely well and will still be protected by our state and federal wildlife laws," he said in an email.

"It is actually a good lesson that when we clean up the environment and provide the right habitat, birds will respond and are an indicator of the health of our planet. Eagles need fish (rivers are cleaner now), and fish without harmful pesticides (like DDT), and tall trees for nests (trees along the rivers, lakes, creeks and in upland areas have been growing back for 100 years) -- so all the ingredients are in Pennsylvania to enable the bald eagle population to rebound and flourish," he said.

Doug Gross, who heads the eagle program for the game commission, had a similar message, noting that eagles have begun nesting in places previously thought unlikely -- such as Pennypack Park and the nation's most urban national wildlife refuge - the John Heinz refuge at Tinicum.

"Why are bald eagles in Philadelphia," he said. One reasons: "The Delaware River’s in better shape. It’s a much bigger story than bald eagles. It’s about ecological recovery, too."

Sadly, that success does not extend to all birds, Zeph noted.

Just because one bird is doing well "doesn't mean that all birds are doing well," he said.

"Other habitats are disappearing causing a decline in the population of many species. For example, large, northern forests are becoming fragmented with developments and gas drilling, impacting the Scarlet Tanager, and many species of wood warblers. Pastures and hayfields are becoming housing developments, so grassland-nesting birds, like the Eastern Meadowlark, are disappearing. Shrubby old fields are becoming mature forests and we have a public mindset against cutting trees, so we are losing the birds that depend on "young forests" for nesting, like the Golden-winged Warbler or our state bird the Ruffed Grouse. Finally, wetlands are still being drained and filled, eliminating habitat for bitterns, rails, herons, and other aquatic nesting species."