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Bald eagles making comeback

Bob Frye
| Friday, Jan. 31, 2003

It wouldn't be fair to say that bald eagles sightings are becoming old news in Pennsylvania. Seeing one is still exciting stuff for most.

But bald eagle numbers are climbing nationwide, and here in Pennsylvania.

The birds are doing so well, in fact, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing them from the endangered species list. If and when that happens, Pennsylvania will have played a role in the species' return from the brink.

The recovery of the bald eagle in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is a "major success story," said Dan Brauning, an ornithologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The number of nesting eagles in Pennsylvania continues to grow by about 15 percent a year, he said. In 2002, PGC staff observed 65 eagle nests containing at least 76 young in the state.

Brauning said the northwest region of the state has the highest number of eagle nests, with populations elsewhere in Pennsylvania emanating from the Pymatuning State Park area.

Lake Raystown, in the southcentral part of the state, is another hot spot. Survey crews recorded the lake's highest eagle count ever in 2002, with 12. Those surveys have been ongoing since 1990.

"To the best of our knowledge, there are a total of five adult and seven immature bald eagles on or around Lake Raystown," said Rob Criswell, a PGC land management supervisor who took part in the survey there.

The southwestern corner of the state has long been on the periphery of the eagles' range in Pennsylvania, and remains "kind of a gap" in the state's eagle habitat, he said. Still, it's probably only a matter of time until eagles become more common here.

"They are on their way to the southwest," Brauning said. "There are prospects for them to show up near Pittsburgh."

Already, the birds have been spotted here in different places. Don Rupp, a deputy wildlife conservation officer with the PGC, saw a pair of mature eagles on the last day of deer season in the Washington and Bell Township areas, and has seen them several times since.

Other birders have reported seeing bald eagles near Latrobe and at Dashields Lock and Dam on the Ohio River in the last week, Brauning said.

Sightings of those birds don't necessarily mean they are living in those areas full time, Brauning said. This is a time of year when eagles are frequently on the move, so those birds could be just passing through.

"But it does indicate the growth in the eagle population," he said. "They will continue to edge closer to Pittsburgh."

BUCK HUNTING

While most of those who spoke at the PGC's January meeting praised the recent changes in deer management - specifically antler restrictions and concurrent buck and doe seasons - there was one call for a return to the old ways.

Greg Levengood, a director with the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, asked the PGC board to consider reinstating a "bucks only" season for deer hunters.

Levengood said seeing deer, rather than just killing deer, is what is important to many hunters. Hunters see more does in a day's time when only bucks are legal game, he said, so he suggested making the first five days of the rifle deer season a bucks-only affairs.

Doe season could start on the first Saturday, he said, and run concurrent with buck season from that point on.

"We have a season for bow hunters, we have a season for muzzleloader hunters, we have a season for doe hunters. Why not a season for buck hunters to accommodate the silent majority?" he asked.

The PGC board did not respond to his request. In that past, though, Dr. Gary Alt, head of the PGC's deer management section, has said opening doe season on the first Saturday of buck, as was done three years ago, was a mistake because it packed too much hunting pressure into one day.

Levengood also suggested the PGC adopt a second new season, an October doe hunt for all rifle hunters. He proposed holding the season immediately after the October muzzleloader season.

WINTER FUN

Ice fishing demonstrations, children's activities, horse-drawn hay rides, snowmobile rides and more will be a part of Winter Fun Days, set for Pymatuning State Park on Saturday and Sunday.

The events will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. There will be a vintage sled display, too, along with displays by snowmobile dealers.

Organizers said the program will be held with or without snow, though it doesn't look as though that will be an issue.

For information, call the Pymatuning State Park at 724-932-3141.

GOOSE HUNTING

Most state parks are open to late-season goose hunting. The season runs now through Feb. 15, with a daily limit of five birds.

Park officials are advising hunters that because the geese still around at this time of year are year-round residents, hunting can be productive along the shoreline and inland, even if some of the park lakes are drawn down or frozen over.

Hunters are also reminded that a section of Crawford County, including Pymatuning State Park is closed to goose hunting.

For information about specific state parks, call 1-888-PA-PARKS.

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