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Foss: Bald eagle comeback a great success story

Foss: Bald eagle comeback a great success story

It's easy to feel gloomy about the environment but...
Foss: Bald eagle comeback a great success story
A bald eagle in Esperance, Schoharie County.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

When I was growing up, I yearned to see a bald eagle.

"You can see them in Alaska," people told me.

When we traveled around the country, visiting big national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, I kept my eyes on the sky. I'm sure there were bald eagles somewhere. But I didn't see any.

All of bald eagle sightings have occurred in adulthood, and the reason for this is simple: The majestic birds of prey are much more plentiful than they once were. You don't need to travel to Alaska to find them - you can find them right here, in the Capital Region.

On Sunday my husband and I saw a bald eagle - at Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes.

I'd always heard that Peebles Island is a good place for spotting bald eagles, but until last weekend I'd been there numerous times and never seen one.

This visit was different right from the start: As soon as we arrived, a friendly volunteer informed us that a small, nearby island was home to a bald eagle nest, and that it was visible from one of Peebles Islands' steep bluffs.

"There's a bald eagle now!" someone exclaimed.

I looked up and there it was, soaring high above me: America's national bird, with its distinctive white head, vast wingspan and regal bearing.

It's easy to feel gloomy about the environment, what with all the grim headlines about air and water pollution, endangered species and climate change.

But there are some success stories, and the resurgence of the bald eagle population is one of them.

It wasn't so very long ago that the bald eagle was nearly extinct in the Empire State.

In 1976, there was just one pair of bald eagles nesting in New York.

A restoration program, launched that year, aimed to rebuild the state's nesting population. DEC wildlife biologists brought bald eagles to New York from Alaska, and released them in the Adirondacks and other locations. The longterm goal: to establish 40 breeding pairs of bald eagles within New York State. By 1988, there were 10 pairs.

These numbers increased steadily, and in 1999 the state's bald eagle population was downgraded from endangered to threatened. Three years ago the Department of Environmental Conservation counted 254 breeding pairs of bald eagles.

Which is quite a comeback - one that isn't over yet.

Last summer the DEC adopted a new conservation plan for the bald eagle, with the goal of maintaining a healthy bald eagle population.

Among other things, the plan recommends restricting human activity around nest sites to reduce the mortality rate of young eagles, developing a monitoring program capable of detecting a 20 percent decline in the breeding population over a five-year period and identifying and protecting important wintering areas.

These are good ideas, and they will help ensure that New York's bald eagle population continues to grow.

Peebles Island is a gem of a park, and we would have enjoyed our walk with or without a bald eagle sighting.

But there's no denying that the bald eagle made it extra special.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog can be found here.

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