San Bernardino Forest Winter Bald Eagle Counts End After 40 Years

To the disappointment of Southern California birdwatchers, the U.S. Forest Service this year will end its 40-year running bald eagle count at various locations throughout the San Bernardino National Forest.
With the Bald Eagle, the national bird and the most highly recognizable natural life symbol of the United States of America, facing a myriad of threats including encroaching urbanization and residual presence in the soil of DDT, a pesticide that caused the bird’s eggs to thin to the point that fewer than seven out of 100 eggs laid maintained their integrity long enough to hatch, the U.S. Government declared the bald eagle an endangered species in 1967. That had followed by 27 years the passage of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.
The counts of eagles were initiated by the U.S. Forest Service in the areas around Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead/Lake Gregory, Silverwood Lake, Lake Perris and Lake Hemet in 1979, all of which are ares where the birds of prey wintered, to provide a baseline on the species’ ongoing population numbers and survival. In 1995, the bald eagle was reclassified as a threatened species.
The counts were carried out on Saturday mornings one weekend per month from December until March. Announcement of the surveys and their results had become a staple in the Sentinel’s weekly wildlife column over the years.
“After 40 years of conducting monthly bald eagle counts during the winter at three sites, in recent years with the aid of the public, officials with San Bernardino National Forest are discontinuing the annual census effort,” according to Zach Behrens, who works with the U.S. Forest Service and is assigned to the San Bernardino National Forest. “Annual counts on the forest have shown the wintering population of the species remains level 12 years after the species was delisted under the Endangered Species Act in 2007. The number of wintering bald eagles in the mountains fluctuates, with the highest counts often reaching 12-15.”
Mountaintop District Ranger Marc Stamer said, “While it was a difficult decision to end this long-running program, the census is no longer needed from a scientific standpoint. We are excited to shift our focus and work with our partners to provide opportunities for the public to continue experiencing the thrill of seeing bald eagles in the forest.”
The forty-year scrutiny of the eagles culminated last year with a live nest camera having been installed near Big Bear Lake, from which two eagles cared for two eggs that had been laid, the eggs hatched and then one of the eaglets over the coming weeks froze to death in the aftermath of a spring arctic storm that moved through the area.
“Over the past two years, viewers have been able to see a pair of chicks hatch live online,” Behrens said of the Big Bear nesting area. “But with that excitement has come the sometimes harsh reality of nature: one chick in each pair has died during winter storms, bearing out the statistic of the 50 percent mortality rate for bald eagle chicks within the first year. The chicks face other threats, which include human presence around the nest. Bald eagles during nesting season are sensitive to human interference and may abandon nesting activities if feeling threatened. To that end, the annual closure of the area around the nest begins December 1. No entry, including snow play on the edges of the area, is allowed. The closure encompasses Grout Bay Picnic Area, the lower section of the Grays Peak Trail and surrounding national forest areas.”

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