BANGOR, Maine - Biologists said Thursday that continued monitoring and federal laws would help protect Maine’ s population of bald eagles if the bird is removed from the state list of endangered and threatened species.
For much of the past 30 years, bald eagles have been shielded from harm by both federal and state laws enacted to save the national bird from extinction largely due to widespread use of the pesticide DDT.
Today, Maine is home to more than 470 nesting pairs of eagles — the 9th largest population in the continental U.S. and 70 percent of the nesting pairs north of New York.
The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is following the lead of federal officials who removed the bald eagle from their list of “threatened” species last year. DIF&W officials are seeking public feedback on the proposal before submitting a recommendation to the Legislature.
“The bald eagle has recovered so much that it is far beyond our criteria for listing as a threatened or endangered species,” Charlie Todd, the long-time eagle biologist at DIF&W, told a small group attending a public hearing in Bangor.
“We’ re shifting gears from this point forward because there are more imperiled species that need our attention,” Todd said.
While delisting will lessen protections for eagles, it does not mean the state is abandoning the species, Todd said.
Maine would continue to monitor eagle populations for 20 years by counting nesting sites at least every 5 years. Todd and other biologists currently rack up 100 to 150 hours of flight time conducting these nest surveys every year.
Because the eagle would still be considered a “species of special concern,” the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would examine impacts on eagles for larger development projects.
Additionally, Maine has permanently protected roughly 100 nesting sites and partially protected 220 more, largely through cooperative agreements with landowners.
But one of the biggest tools to protect the eagle will be existing federal laws, which will continue to prohibit capturing or killing the birds as well as disturbing mating pairs during the critical breeding season.
Still, several attendees urged the state to proceed cautiously — if at all — with delisting.
Barb Wais, who regularly sees eagles from her home along the Kenduskeag Stream, said she is concerned about development and how climate change will affect eagles in the future. She urged the state to take steps to protect both current and potential nesting sites.
“I would hate to see us potentially ruining future habitat that eagles might need,” said Wais.
Janice Kasper of Swanville urged the state to make sure towns or code enforcement officers have the tools to protect nests on private land from development.
Barry Burgason, a wildlife biologist with Huber Resources Corp. and chairman of the Maine Forest Products Council’ s wildlife committee, said his two organizations support delisting. But he said DIF&W’ s annual aerial surveys have been critical to helping timberland owners avoid cutting down nesting trees. Burgason asked the department to monitor more often than every 5 years.
The only outright opposition to delisting voiced Thursday night came from a representative of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, who said removing protections for eagles would violate state policies requiring DIF&W to “maintain and enhance” all species and their ecosystems.
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.