Maine’ s bald eagle population has rebounded to the point that state officials are proposing to remove the bird from the state’ s list of protected species.
State wildlife officials will hold a public hearing Thursday evening in Bangor on a proposal to drop the eagle from the list of threatened species in the state, a move that would lessen some restrictions on landowners but would not remove all protections for the iconic birds.
The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Ramada Inn at 357 Odlin Road.
During the past 30 years, eagles have made a strong recovery throughout much of the lower 48 states. But the eagles’ rebound from near extinction has been particularly remarkable in Maine, where numbers have risen from just 21 nesting pairs in the late 1960s to more than 470 this year.
Maine has, by far, the largest population of bald eagles along the East Coast north of the Chesapeake Bay.
U.S. Department of the Interior officials removed the bald eagle from the federal list of threatened species about a year ago after the number of nesting pairs in the lower 48 topped 10,000.
State officials say they are now ready to follow suit. DIF&W Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin plans to request that the Legislature remove the bird from the state’ s list of threatened species in January, according to information distributed by the department on Tuesday.
DIF&W says eagle populations now meet five of the six criteria established for delisting nearly 20 years ago, one of which was removal from the federal list.
The state had set a goal of at least 150 nesting pairs producing a minimum of 150 fledglings for three consecutive years. There are now 473 nesting pairs in the state producing, on average, more than 300 fledglings annually.
The state has not experienced a population decline of more than 5 percent since 1996. More than 100 nesting areas have been protected through secure conservation ownerships or easements, which is double the goal.
The sole criterion that has not been met is having an additional 100 nesting areas protected through conservation ownership, easements or cooperative management agreements with landowners. But more than 220 nesting areas have been partially protected, so DIF&W officials believe they have met the spirit of this “safety net” criteria for delisting.
“We are trying to balance this across the spectrum of habitats and watersheds in proportion to the nesting distribution of bald eagles,” the department states in supporting documents. “For nearly 30 years, private landowners have championed stewardship of eagle habitats in Maine, but we need appropriate incentives to help stabilize and reward these voluntary arrangements over the long term.”
The birds still will be protected from capture or killing by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Act and several other laws.
The department is accepting public comments on the delisting through Aug. 11. Comments should be sent to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildllife, Attn: Andrea Erskine, 41 SHS — 284 State St., Augusta, ME 04333-0041. Comments also can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.