- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — The population of bald eagles in the sprawling watershed of the Chesapeake Bay is at a 30-year high, after the birds dwindled nearly to extinction in the 1970s, a recently released survey shows.

The 64,000-square-mile watershed, which crosses the boundaries of six states and the District, was home to 74 active nests in 1977. The Chesapeake Bay Program, a cooperative federal-state agency, now says there are 760 occupied nests — an over tenfold increase.

“It’s good to see eagles returning to the Bay’s watershed,” said Chris Conner, a spokesman for the program. “It shows if we can enact good management policies and see some improvement in water quality and habitat, we can see a resurgence of a species we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Experts attribute the resurgence to the 1972 ban of the pesticide DDT, which caused the birds to lay eggs with brittle shells. They also attribute the population increase to the Bay’s rebounding populations of big fish, such as croaker and striped bass.

Declaring the species “endangered” in most of the United States in 1973 also increased their survival rates. Bald eagles are still classified as “threatened.”

Scientists believe historical levels of bald eagles once reached the thousands, but 1977 marked the all-time low since record keeping in the watershed began. The population has spiked 10 percent, up from 687, in the last year, the survey showed.

The report used data gathered in 2003 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

In the following states’ and District portions of the watershed, the survey found:

• 396 occupied nests in Virginia.

• 338 occupied nests in Maryland.

• 25 occupied nests in Pennsylvania.

• One occupied nest in Washington, D.C.

Scientists say bald eagles thrive near the Bay because they nest in mature trees along the shoreline and are able to survey the estuary’s rich buffet of food.

Even on Aberdeen Proving Ground, the 72,500-acre base that stretches along the upper Bay, bald eagles have flourished. About 250 of the birds brave regular weapons testing to live on the base.

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