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State's bald eagle population at new high

The bald eagle is not only a symbol of America and the freedoms it embodies, it's also a symbol of successful conservation efforts, it seems.

By 1972, when the federal government banned the use of the pesticide DDT, there were fewer than 500 breeding pairs of bald eagles still in the country. Today there are more than 7,600.

The turnaround has been so dramatic that some environmental and conservation groups are calling on President George Bush to remove the eagle from the threatened species list.

"The recovery of the bald eagle is proof positive of the potential of America's conservation and restoration efforts," said Environmental Defense president Fred Krupp.

Pennsylvania has played a role in the eagle's comeback. Preliminary census work completed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission documents at least 75 known bald eagle nests in the state, up from 68 in 2003, 63 in 2002, 55 in 2001, and 48 in 2000.

As recently as three decades ago, bald eagle nesting was limited to a couple of nests in the Pymatuning region of Crawford County.

New eagle nests have been found in Armstrong, Berks, Centre, Erie, Lycoming and McKean counties. Other counties with known nests are Bradford, Butler, Cameron, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Forest, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Mercer, Monroe, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Wayne, Westmoreland, and York.

"If all goes well, we project Pennsylvania's nesting eagles will produce more than 100 eaglets this year," said Dan Brauning, supervisor of the Game Commission's wildlife diversity section supervisor. "That will be a first and a truly remarkable milestone in the bald eagle's recovery in the Commonwealth."

Pennsylvania's bald eagle reintroduction began in 1983, when agency employees brought 12 eaglets back from Saskatchewan, Canada. Those birds were put in nest structures in Dauphin and Pike counties. The project worked well enough to eventually lead to the release of 88 eagles across the state.

The eagle remains a state endangered species today.

Point-of-sale

There's no doubt switching to an automated point-of-sale system for selling hunting and fishing licenses will be costly, no doubt. Estimates put the price at somewhere between $2.7 and $3.4 million annually.

Economics should not be the only consideration, however, said Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Bob Gilford, of Clarion County.

He suggested the agency needs to consider moving toward a point-of-sale system, regardless of whether the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and/or Department of Agriculture share the cost.

"It's the material we're going to get out of this system that we don't have now that's where the real value is," Gilford said.

Indeed, a report prepared by consultant Diversified Data Services said an automated point-of-sale system would allow the Game Commission to compile a database showing just who its hunters are. It could require hunters to report whether they killed a deer before buying another license, keep parents in the state's "deadbeat parent" registry from getting a license, and allow the Commission to contact those who bought a license one year but not the next in an attempt to lure them back.

Rails-trails

The Pennsylvania Conservation and Natural Resources awarded $1.6 million in grants for the planning, acquisition and construction of more than 99 miles of rail-trails in 14 Pennsylvania counties.

Locally, the Montour Trail Council in Allegheny County received $90,000 to construct a 115-foot bridge over Piney Fork Run on the Montour Trail. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh got $250,000 to rehabilitate the Hot Metal Bridge.

Fayette County received $55,000 to complete the design of 10.4 miles of the Sheepskin Trail North.

Washington County got $70,000 to further develop 4.25 miles of the Panhandle Trail.

In Westmoreland County, the Alle-Kiski Revitalization Corp. for $200,000 to acquire a permanent trail easement on 7.8 miles along the Allegheny River in Oakmont and Plum boroughs and New Kensington and Arnold. The county itself got $80,000 to further develop the Five Star Trail, including a pedestrian bridge over Sewickley Creek in New Stanton.

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