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Bald eagle numbers on the rise and going strong

July 5, 2017
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is celebrating reaching a new record number of breeding bald eagle pairs around New York.

The DEC undertook an eagle restoration effort in 1976 and began tracking the nation's mascot at that time. And just last week, the DEC announced there is now 323 breeding pairs across the state.

"Early indications from 2017 aerial surveys have revealed that approximately 73 percent of bald eagle territories are occupied this year," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press release. "New York State has been a leader in the restoration and recovery of the bald eagle in the northeastern United States, and this news confirms that our rivers, lakes and forests are capable of supporting our nation's symbol for generations to come."

Article Photos

A bald eagle perches in a white pine tree over the Saranac River near the Lower Locks outside of Saranac Lake on July 4.
News photo — Justin A. Levine

This news come on the heels of last year's record of 53 new nesting territories, which continued a steady increase of nesting pairs over the years. The DEC said in a press release that at least 20 new nesting territories have been established each year since 2010.

Eagles were nearly wiped out in the 1960s, largely due to the effects of DDT. In fact, in 1970, there was just one bald eagle nest on Hemlock Lake in Livingston County, but that nest was unproductive.

In response, the state began a program in 1976 that included hand-rearing young eagles and then releasing them into likely habitats. The state obtained young eagles from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Alaska.

The program was so successful that other states and a Canadian province copied it with success. The program did so well that it was ended in 1988, after more than 10 breeding pairs of the birds had been established.

Part of the monitoring plan for the eagles included DEC staff actually climbing up to each nest to collect feather and blood samples. Sometimes staff would also install predator guides. But as the program wore on and the eagle population boomed, DEC staff was only able to climb to nests that were new or recently discovered.

While the success of the reintroduction program may be obvious, there are still threats to the birds. Human disruption of habitat and climate change are leading threats, according to two studies.

However, the DEC said in its bald eagle management plan that from 2004 to 2013, collisions with cars and trains were also major sources of mortality.

According to one study, motor vehicles of all sorts accounted for 38 percent of all recovered eagles in New York. From 2007 to 2013, two eagles were killed by collisions with planes, while 32 were killed by trains and 46 were killed by vehicles.

During that same time, 22 bald eagles were killed by lead poisoning and another 20 fell from the nest. Five eagles were also shot and humans poisoned another seven.

But despite these threats, bald eagles appear to be thriving in New York.

The DEC is also looking for citizen scientists to help monitor the birds. For more information on how to help, or just to read more about bald eagles in New York, go to


CWD poses a bigger problem elsewhere

Since 2002, the DEC has had a ban on feeding white-tail deer in the state. This ban was put in place largely in response to the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which can decimate deer populations and is often spread when deer gather together to feed.

In recent years, the DEC has found little or no impact from CWD on New York's deer herds, but is still proposing tighter regulations.

Some may think stricter rules are unnecessary, but the New York Times is reporting that other states are having to take drastic steps to control the disease.

According to the Times, researchers are going to study a new control measure on National Park Service land in Arkansas and Colorado. The new method is, to say the least, extreme.

"Fire may be the only remedy," begins the headline in the Times article from June 26. The article notes that the disease was first chronicled in 1967, and has since been documented in 24 states.

Dr. Mark D. Zabel of Colorado State University, has found the cause of the disease - a deformed protein called a prion - can be spread from dead animals and may stay viable in the environment for years.

So Dr. Zabel is proposing to set fire to large swaths of public land to see if cleansing by fire is a suitable treatment.

Zabel has found in prior research that the cellular proteins of deer, elk and moose may be more susceptible to "folding," which causes the disease to form. This discovery was recently backed up when CWD was found in Norway, the first time the disease has been found in Europe. The Norwegian government has gone so far as to call for the culling of 2,000 reindeer to try and limit the spread of the disease.

While New York has so far been successful in limiting CWD, the proposed changes are meant to update the existing laws to prevent the further spread of the disease.

"Chronic wasting disease represents a serious threat to New York State's wild white-tailed population. DEC's existing CWD regulation is antiquated and does not provide adequate measures to protect the deer population," the DEC said.

This rule change would add caribou and reindeer to the list of animals that could carry CWD, would make illegal "the importation of all CWD-susceptible carcasses taken outside New York," and would prohibit "the retail sale and use of urine, glands or excreted materials from any CWD-susceptible animals for scents, lures, or attractants while afield."



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