Tuesday, September 9, 2003

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife & Heritage Service says 338 pairs of bald eagles nested in the state this year. Nesting eagles occurred in 20 counties, including all those bordering the Chesapeake Bay. Bald eagles are closely associated with the Chesapeake Bay and its major tidal tributaries, especially the Potomac, Patuxent, Chester and Choptank rivers.

I can personally vouch for the tidal Potomac, where during the early spring’s nesting a bass boater can run a brief stretch from the mouth of the Nanjemoy up toward Mallows Bay and count around 20 eagles leaving their perches high up in shoreline sycamores or oaks.

The DNR is happy to report that the number of nesting pairs of bald eagles in Maryland has exceeded 300 for the past three years. In 2002, there were 321 documented nesting pairs. The population has increased nearly eight-fold since 1977, the first year the DNR monitored the state’s nesting population. Back then, only 41 pairs were found.

In Maryland and Virginia, bald eagles tend to lay their eggs in late February and March. Maryland biologists survey all nesting pairs in March from a small airplane while the eagles are incubating their eggs. In May, the scientists check for productivity. This year’s May survey was conducted along the Chester, Choptank, Patuxent and middle Potomac rivers. While the number of young produced per nesting pair was below average this year, possibly due to the poor weather conditions, the average of 1.09 young produced per pair is above the level needed to maintain the population.

Though most nesting pairs of bald eagles are associated with tidal waters, increasing numbers of eagles are seen inland. Nesting eagles were found along the nontidal portion of the Potomac River as far west as Harpers Ferry. In addition, nesting pairs were documented at all of the reservoirs in central Maryland except Liberty Reservoir.

And do you know who is totally disgusted with the wonderful resurgence of our national bird? None other than the once threatened osprey, a fish hawk that simply can’t stand a bald eagle. They frequently compete for the same seafood. We see occasional altercations between the two.

Will federal striper waters reopen? — The federal government’s NOAA Fisheries Office has reopened the public comment period for proposed revisions to Atlantic Striped Bass regulations in federal waters until Sept. 25. NOAA Fisheries wants public input on a proposal to remove the moratorium on the harvest of Atlantic striped bass in federally managed waters, closed to both commercial and recreational fishing for the past 13 years. Proposed revisions include a 28-inch minimum size limit for the recreational and commercial Atlantic striped bass fisheries in federal waters and the ability for states to adopt more restrictive rules for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdiction.

Written comments can be mailed to Anne Lange, Chief, State-Federal Fisheries Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NOAA, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13317, Silver Spring, Md. 20910, or faxed to 301/713-0596. For further information, contact Lange or Tom Meyer at 301/713-2334.

More on the Au Sable River — In answer to our Aug. 27 story about Michigan’s Au Sable River and how some sportsmen say its pristine surroundings soon will be threatened by plans to drill for natural gas, a government official wants to set the record straight.

Kenneth Arbogast, the public affairs officer for the Huron-Manistee National Forests, says the information we received from Tim Mason, the grandson of the man who donated a large parcel of land adjoining the famous trout river in Crawford County, contained a few inaccuracies. Arbogast pointed out that the federal land that is to be used for the drilling was leased, not sold to the Savoy Energy Company. And the drilling will not come within “mere feet” of the disputed area; it will be 702 feet away. In fact, an alternative site suggestion by the state is 4,212 feet from a memorial chapel on the donated land.

“Once the drilling is complete and the well is operational, the well itself will be virtually silent,” Arbogast wrote. He also added that the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will do an environmental assessment before approving the project, which includes a public comment period.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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