The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced a new conservation plan to manage New York’s population of the bald eagle. The Conservation Plan for Bald Eagles in New York State describes the historic status, restoration efforts and current status of the bald eagle in the state and provides guidelines for future management actions. A draft of the plan was released in February 2015; more than 120 comments were received.
The bald eagle, currently listed as a threatened species in New York, continues to make recover across the state. The Conservation Plan serves as a guide for landowners, resource managers, local government agencies, and other stakeholders to manage and perpetuate the bald eagle and its habitat in New York. This plan also informs the public of actions recommended to achieve the goal of a sustainable, healthy bald eagle population, including its essential habitat and the ecosystems it depends upon.
Avoiding human disturbance at bald eagle nests is important to protecting the species. Some bald eagles are very sensitive to human activity and disturbance, especially at nest sites. Motor traffic, approaching too close on foot, frequency of visits or nearby tree removal can result in nest failure, nest abandonment, or abandonment of the nesting territory altogether. Any repeated disturbance by humans is unlawful under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and under the Environmental Conservation Law of New York.
A press release from DEC says that motorized activity such as jet skis, motorized boats, vehicles, manned and unmanned aircraft (e.g. drones), ATVs and snowmobiles, as well as non-motorized activities, such as hiking, hunting, bird watching, camping, fishing, photography and paddling, should all take place outside a minimum 330-foot buffer zone unless birds have demonstrated a tolerance for these activities. In some cases, DEC recommends a 660-foot buffer or larger. Additionally, any air traffic should be restricted to no closer than ¼ mile from and at least 1000 feet above ground level at nest sites. Eagles are particularly sensitive to disturbances from above.
Human disturbance may lead to opportunistic predation of nests, nest abandonment, or may cause young eaglets to fall from or to leave the nest prematurely. Young eaglets that fledge prematurely may be vulnerable to predation by a variety of mammals while on the ground. Observations at bald eagle nests should be made quietly, at a distance (outside the 330’ buffer), using binoculars or a spotting scope.
Violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as amended in 1972, increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the Act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. The fine doubles for an organization. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the Act. Violators may be subject to additional fines under New York State Environmental Conservation Law.
The Bald Eagle Conservation Plan establishes objectives for bald eagles in New York and lays out actions to accomplish those objectives. Key objectives include:
Maintain a statewide average breeding bald eagle population of at least 200 breeding pairs; and
Maintain protection of our significant wintering bald eagle population.
Key actions to meet these objectives include:
Consult with landowners, developers, business and industry to ensure that proposed projects occurring near eagle nesting and wintering locations avoid or minimize impacts to bald eagles that may result from the potential impacts of:
Increased human disturbance;
Collisions with cars, trains, electric lines, wind turbines and other structures; and
Environmental contaminants including lead and PCBs.
Work collaboratively with landowners to limit human disturbance, address the risk of predation and gather information on the status of nests by building partnerships between landowners, DEC, local land trusts, environmental groups, and volunteers.
Discourage the intentional feeding of bald eagles to avoid potential exposure to contamination and disease.
Collect dead eagles for necropsy to determine cause of death and assessment of exposure to heavy metals, toxins, and disease before sending along all eagle carcasses to the National Eagle Repository.
Monitoring the distribution and abundance of breeding and wintering bald eagles in New York State at a level suitable to ensure objectives are met, incorporating volunteers where possible.
The Final Plan and additional information on bald eagles can be found on DEC’s website at The Final Plan and additional information on bald eagles can be found on DEC’s website.
Photo by W. Lloyd MacKenzie, via Flickr.