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Friday, January 13, 2012

Canadian transplants bring U.S. bald eagle back from the brink

Canadian transplants bring U.S. bald eagle back from the brink:

Bald Eagle On Mountaintop

Photograph by: Pamela Joe McFarlane, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The bald eagle — the U.S. national bird and a species on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states just a generation ago — is now thriving again in the heartland of the American Revolution thanks to a series of transplants from Canada.

New Jersey has become the latest U.S. state to celebrate the majestic raptor's revival, with wildlife officials announcing a "milestone" achievement of 100 nesting pairs at the start of 2012 — nearly all of which are descended from the 60 eaglets imported from the bird's healthier Canadian habitats since the 1980s.

Some of the individual birds introduced from this country may yet be alive and counted among New Jersey's current bald eagle population.

Eagles have been known to live beyond 30 years in the wild.

"The recovery of the bald eagle from one nesting pair in an isolated swamp in southern New Jersey in the early 1980s to more than 100 pairs today is a truly remarkable success story," the state's environmental protection commissioner, Bob Martin, said in a statement after the release of a report last month that found 102 pairs nesting in the state.

The statement attributed the bird's recovery "from the edge of extirpation" to a ban on the use of the pesticide DDT and "decades of restoration and management efforts" by New Jersey wildlife officials, who "released 60 eaglets from Canada into New Jersey in the 1980s and early 1990s to rebuild the population."

DDT was a widely used pesticide that had caused fatally thin eggshells among eagles and other bird species in the 1960s and '70s. The ban on the chemical was spurred largely by the precipitous decline in bald eagle populations, an existential environmental crisis in a country where the white-headed bird ranks with the Stars and Stripes among the most potent symbols of American nationhood.

New Jersey wildlife officials noted in the December report that bald eagle nests have now been documented in 18 of the state's 21 counties, and that the total population of birds probably exceeds 300.

"In addition to the continued increase in the overall numbers of eagles," state wildlife biologist Kathy Clark said in a statement, "what's really exciting is that they are being found all across the state in all types of habitats, including along small lakes and reservoirs in northern New Jersey."

A similar record of success has been reported in New Jersey neighbour Pennsylvania, where that state's bald eagle population has rebounded from just three nesting pairs in 1980 to more than 200 today — thanks largely to the emergency reintroduction of 88 eagles from Saskatchewan between 1983 and 1989.

"The recovery of the bald eagle has been one of the great wildlife conservation stories in the history of both the state and the nation,'' the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which oversees wildlife conservation in the state, declared in a 2010 report. "Pennsylvania's nesting bald eagle population has increased steadily and dramatically in recent years, roughly 15 per cent annually."

Other U.S. states, including Massachusetts, have also imported Canadian bald eagles to replenish native populations that had all but vanished before recovery efforts began in earnest around the time of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. The 200th anniversary of the country's birth led many American conservation advocates to lament the iconic eagle's sorry state.

The bald eagle effectively became the U.S. national bird in 1782 when it was placed at the centre of the Great Seal of the United States — seven years before George Washington even became the first president of the newly independent federation of former British colonies.

Officially declared endangered in the lower 48 states in 1967, the eagle was upgraded to "threatened" in 1995 and finally removed from the U.S. endangered species list in 2007.

The effort to restore bald eagle populations south of the U.S.-Canada border is one of many cross-border projects aimed at preventing the extinction of signature species in North America.

The continent's tallest and most endangered bird, the whooping crane, has been the focus of a long-running recovery plan involving wildlife agencies from both Canada and the U.S. Once reduced to a few dozen individuals, the whooping crane population remains vulnerable but now numbers about 400.

The species' only wild flock migrates annually between its Canadian nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and its summer habitat at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Similarly, efforts to sustain the endangered North Atlantic right whale — a species that also has about 400 individuals — involve various Canadian and American government agencies and research bodies and scores of marine biologists.


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