The eagle edged out the turkey to become America’s symbol. It then survived DDT and recovered to become a symbol of the best in conservation, of how humans can reverse the consequences of our actions and bring a bird back from the brink. In doing so, it became a symbol of hope for many other species in distress. If we can bring back eagles, what can’t we do?
But maybe the better question is, if a majestic bird like the eagle can’t move you to, well, move, then what will?
Such is the issue with Fones Cliffs, a beautiful area along the Rappahannock River that the national wildlife system once was planning to purchase and protect, but it didn’t have the federal funds to do so. One reason they were so interested in protecting the area was because of all the eagles that nest there.
Our Leslie Middleton writes: "The stretch of the river that includes Fones Cliff is also home to the largest East Coast resident population of bald eagles, and is a migratory stop for hundreds more as they transit the Chesapeake Bay region between summer and winter homes.The Richmond County Board of Supervisors voted to allow a development there that would include 700 homes, a restaurant, a lodge, equestrian center and golf course."
The developer, Diatomite, said the federally owned refuge generates no tax revenues. But as the former refuge manager notes, there are other revenues. What about all the paddlers and bird-watchers?
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Conservancy and other groups protested mightily on behalf of the eagles. It remains to be seen what will happen, but the eagles definitely lost the first round.
On the other side of the Bay, eagles are struggling at Conowingo. They are back in high numbers there, but they often get tied up in fishing line that is left behind. Wildlife photographer Dave Lychenheim has been trying to get the fishermen’s area moved a bit to ease conflicts, but he hasn’t made much progress.
On the federal level, Lychenheim has also been trying to get lead removed from ammunition. Even just a small amount can be toxic to an eagle munching on a deer carcass in the wild. At the Wildlife Center of Virginia, veterinarians are reporting high numbers of eagles coming in with lead poisoning.
Here in the Chesapeake Bay, we are so lucky to have eagles. I was in Indiana last March, touring a park with Notre Dame researchers, and they were so excited to have maybe documented the first nesting eagle in their county. Everywhere you look, we have hundreds — Aberdeen, Conowingo, Blackwater, Rappahannock, and even in the skies over Annapolis and Towson.
But we ought not forget how we almost lost this majestic bird. And because the eagles don’t get to vote at the county board of supervisors or in Congress, we ought to do everything we can to make sure they’re healthy, and that they stick around.