Once Scarce, Bald Eagles Coming Back In NE Pa.
THE (SCRANTON) TIMES-TRIBUNE
SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) – When Larry M. Rymon, Ph.D., introduced Pennsylvania to the “bird hacking” model in 1979, he intended to revive the depleted population of osprey – known as a sea hawk – in the area.
Never did Rymon, a former professor at East Stroudsburg University, imagine his model would be one of the driving forces behind the bald eagle’s recovery in the state.
“It’s amazing how things work,” said Dr. Rymon, 74, who is retired and lives in Sequim, Wash. “It’s great to know the bald eagle is back in Pennsylvania.”
Thirty years ago, as few as three bald eagle nests remained in Pennsylvania, and the species – known as the United States’ national symbol – was on the verge of extinction. Now, following years of hacking, and extensive measures taken to ensure clean water, there are 215 bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania, including 60 in Northeast Pennsylvania, according to William Williams, the information and education supervisor at the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“To be honest, I didn’t think we would see bald eagles in this area again,” Williams said. “It’s been an incredible recovery.”
The bald eagle population started to diminish in the 1950s and ‘60s when bodies of water – where bald eagles went to get their food – became polluted with different pesticides, such as DDT, a toxic chemical carried by water that can accumulate in a fish’s tissues, said Williams.
Through the food chain, the DDT passed from fish to the bald eagles, and the toxic chemical thinned the shells of eagles’ eggs, causing the eggs to break and limiting the bald eagle’s ability to reproduce.
The 1972 Clean Water Act addressed the polluted water issue, but the damage was already done.
The bald eagle population had been reduced to next to nothing.
Desperate for answers, the Pennsylvania Game Commission implemented Rymon’s hacking model, which required the game commission to take dozens of eaglets from a place where they were abundant, such as Canada and Alaska, and foster them until they were old enough to live independently – about 10 to 12 weeks old.
Within years of the program’s start in 1983, bald eagles, who were fostered at the hacking sites, started coming back and nesting.
“Bald eagles have an inborn tradition to their general area of fledging,” Williams said. “If they were born in a certain area, they will tend to nest in the same general area.”
As years passed, the bald eagle population continued to rise in Pennsylvania. And last year marked the first time in more than 30 years that there was a reported 200 bald eagle nests in the state, Williams said.
“We expect the number to continue to increase,” said Williams, who says the most common nesting areas are along the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers.
As for Rymon, he’s working on ways to increase the osprey population on the West Coast. But he’s glad his hacking model was influential in bringing the bald eagles back home.
“I’m glad I could do something to help save America’s favorite bird.”