Bald eagle populations have continued to increase throughout the Chesapeake watershed according to 2001 bald eagle population counts released by the Bay Program.

Results from the annual Baywide survey show increased numbers residing throughout the region, with 618 active nests producing 908 eaglets — a 16 percent increase from the previous year’s 533 active nests and 813 young eagles.

Thriving in some of the most productive nesting grounds in the nation, Bay watershed eagle populations continue to climb to the highest levels since Baywide recordkeeping began in 1977.

In Virginia, 300 active nests fledged 446 young, while in Maryland, 297 active nests produced 432 young. Pennsylvania was home to 20 active nests and 29 young, and, for the second consecutive year, an active nest and youngster were documented in the District of Columbia near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.

“Improved water quality and the preservation and restoration of bald eagle habitat has allowed the species to once again flourish throughout the Bay watershed,” said Diana Esher, acting director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office. “We hope to see their numbers continue to grow throughout the next decade as Bay protection and restoration activities expand.”

Historically, scientists believe that more than 3,000 pairs once inhabited the Bay watershed, but populations reached an all-time low in 1977, with only 72 pairs nesting. The banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972 and subsequent Endangered Species Act protections have greatly helped the recovery of this species.

The increased bald eagle population has also benefited from restoration programs aimed at improving the quality of local waters and the Bay. Land preservation and forest restoration have improved eagle habitat, while water quality improvements have increased the eagle’s available food supply through improved fisheries.

Bay Program officials say the Chesapeake 2000 agreement will continue to benefit local eagle populations by accelerating programs to improve water quality. Other commitments, such as those aimed at restoring riparian forest buffers and reducing sprawl, can also help maintain the eagle comeback.

Waterfront property owners and others can also assist in the recovery of Bay watershed bald eagles by preserving streamside forested buffers and allowing tall trees to grow near the water’s edge.