The number of bald eagles in Wyoming has grown to 185 breeding pairs, a population recovery that has exceeded expectations from ornithologists who predicted much lower recovery rates when the birds were first granted federal protection in 1967.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The number of bald eagles in Wyoming has grown to 185 breeding pairs, a population recovery that has exceeded expectations from ornithologists who predicted much lower recovery rates when the birds were first granted federal protection in 1967.
The bald eagle population is soaring nationally, as well, with the number of breeding pairs in the lower 48 states climbing from a low in 1963 of 417 to more than 9,700 today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.
The population recovery offers evidence to some scientists that federal protection of the birds under the Endangered Species Act should be lifted.
"They're not facing extinction, and they are not threatened with moving into the endangered classification," said Bob Oakleaf, who oversees nongame species for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "So we might as well reserve that act and the money and heartache and conflict that goes with it to the species that need it."
Wyoming's bald eagle population had dropped to 35 breeding pairs by 1978 due to hunting, pesticides, poisons and other factors.
A handful of eagles that lived on private land around Jackson formed the nucleus from which most of the state's recovered population eventually blossomed.
Small groups of eagles in the Sheridan area, possibly migrants from Montana, and in the Saratoga area probably also helped repopulate the state, Oakleaf said.
The birds still face habitat destruction and human encroachment because of development, but conservation groups are working to protect open space from development and bald eagles seem to be increasingly at ease in the presence of humans, Oakleaf said.
"There are signs that they are showing increasing tolerance to human activity," he said.
Meantime, the efforts to lift federal protection for bald eagles continues. The current debate centers on fine nuances in the rules that will guide management of the birds in the future.
Conservationists are concerned that the rules will be too flimsy to offer meaningful protection for the long term.
Oakleaf noted that numerous other laws will remain in place to protect bald eagles when federal protection is lifted.
Information from: Star-Tribune, http://www.casperstartribune.net
Source: Associated Press