Bald eagles were officially declared an endangered species in 1967, improved to the status of threatened in 1995, and, only as recently as June 28, 2007 taken off the Endangered Species List. While the recovery of the bald eagle is a great conservation success story — and we owe great thanks to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Hudson River Estuary Program for their successes — caring for eagles in the Hudson Valley well into the future will require continued resources and commitment from New York State.
The growing population of once nearly extinct eagles is a tribute to the concerted effort among environmental groups supported by New York State funding. However, recent cuts to New York’s budget for the Environmental Protection Fund, State Parks and DEC threatens to undermine important environmental projects like the preservation of the bald eagle. Though their numbers have increased, caring for the bald eagle requires an ongoing public-private partnership to protect eagle habitats, including the Hudson River.
Each winter, between December and March, bald eagles from Canada and northern New York and New England fly south to the lower Hudson Valley to feed on fish and waterfowl found in unfrozen waters. Biologists estimate that about 150-200 bald eagles overwinter in the Lower Hudson Valley, and it appears that this number is growing. Bedford Audubon Society annually conducts surveys of roosting bald eagles at several sites along the River and at the New Croton Reservoir. In 2009, Bedford Audubon recorded an average of 74 and a peak of 139 bald eagles at the monitoring sites, compared with an average of 51 and a peak of 84 bald eagles in 2008. These trends continued in 2010 and the eagles have again been returning this winter in recent weeks. The rescue of the bald eagle, our national emblem is in and of itself cause for celebration, but it also highlights the ongoing need for sound environmental policies and an adequate environmental budget to support efforts to preserve and sustain the bald eagle and its habitat.
Studies also show that the lower Hudson Valley is one of the largest wintering areas for bald eagles in the eastern lower 48 states outside of the Chesapeake Bay region. According to Birder’s World, the Hudson Valley was ranked #18 on their list of best bald eagle viewing spot in the country. Every year the bald eagle’s return affirms the continued health of the Hudson River and nearby habitats for wildlife and people.
While this writer appreciates the need to be fiscally responsible, I ask Albany not to be too short-sighted and forsake important environmental projects, such as the continued cleanup of the Hudson River, which has led to the return of the bald eagle in New York State. Governor Cuomo has made a great first step by appointing Joe Martens to lead the Department of Environmental Conservation, now the Environmental Protection Fund needs to be fully restored and supported by the Assembly and Senate. EPF projects are making a significant difference to the long-term health of the economy (e.g. tourism brings the State $4.6 billion annually) and sustainability of New York State, which I hope you agree is money well spent!