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January 15, 1999

For more information contact:
Larry Niles at 609-292-9410

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, 90 bald eagles and 2 golden eagles were counted by nearly 100 volunteers who braved last weekend's mixed bag of fog, rain, wind and bitter cold temperatures to participate in the annual statewide mid-winter eagle survey held January 9th and 10th. The total is a decrease from last year's count of 119 bald eagles and 6 golden eagles with biologists attributing the lower numbers to poor weather conditions during the survey and mild fall/early winter conditions.

"Although this year's winter count is down from recent years, it should not be misconstrued as a sign of a declining eagle population," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "On the contrary, eagles numbers are increasing in the Northeast and throughout most of the lower 48 states."

The survey, coordinated by the Division, was sponsored by New Jersey's "Conserve Wildlife Tax Check-Off" Program and focused on known eagle wintering areas throughout the Garden State. In North Jersey this includes the upper Delaware River from the Water Gap to Port Jervis, and most of the major reservoirs such as Round Valley, Merrill Creek, Boonton and Wanaque. In the south, surveyors focused on the major river systems flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

According to the information collected in South Jersey, a total of 36 adults and 27 immature bald eagles were tallied by volunteers searching the tributaries flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. In North Jersey, volunteers counted 7 adults and 2 immature bald eagles along the upper Delaware River and 18 eagles near reservoirs and impoundments.

"The decline in wintering eagle numbers this year is most likely due to the foggy, rainy conditions that reduced visibility during the survey," said Chief Larry Niles of the Division's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. "Also, the mild weather experienced in the Northeast this past fall and early winter has left many northern waters ice free. As a result, fewer eagles have been forced south to open waters. We will need to see results from all of the Northeastern states before drawing any conclusions from the survey."

Many of the adult eagles counted in southern New Jersey are birds that breed here. Since the nesting season is just a few weeks away, several eagles were observed close to known eagle nests. In past surveys, volunteers have witnessed nest building activity and mating behavior that eventually led to the discovery of new nests.

New Jersey residents who have donated to the "Conserve Wildlife Tax Check-Off" on line 52 of the state income tax form can take pride in knowing they have helped to restore the bald eagle population in the Garden State. Since 1982, funding from the "Tax Check-Off" has helped to pay for the acquisition and release of more than 60 Canadian bald eagles in South Jersey. Last year, there were 15 active eagle nests in the Garden State. Given the amount of available habitat and increased eagle production over the past few years, biologists expect eagle nesting to continue to increase in the state.

Niles warns however, that, "Despite our successes with the bald eagle and many other rare species, funding for endangered and threatened species protection and management is in severe jeopardy." Revenues from the Income Tax Check-Off for Wildlife, the program's main funding source, have fallen sharply in recent years. Check-off revenues have gone from a high of about $510,000 in 1989 to just $250,000 last year. "If this trend continues, it will threaten our ability to protect and manage eagles and many other rare species that depend on our continued actions for survival in New Jersey," he added.

This year, taxpayers will have a choice between five competing check-offs on the state income tax form. The additional check-offs have the potential to further reduce funding for endangered and threatened wildlife.

For those who have never thrilled to the sight of a bald eagle in the wild, New Jersey offers excellent viewing opportunities during the winter months. In northern New Jersey, areas such as Poxono Island, Wallpack Bend and the Route 206 bridge near Milford, PA offer excellent opportunities for viewing eagles on the upper Delaware River.

In South Jersey, the upper Delaware Bay in Salem County and the Cohansey and Mullica rivers are productive areas for viewing eagles. Along the Atlantic Coast, the Great Egg Harbor and Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge also offer good eagle viewing opportunities.

Observers are reminded that the winter months are stressful for eagles and other wildlife species. Disturbance can be detrimental. When observing perched or roosting eagles maintain a minimum distance of 300 to 400 yards from the birds.

For additional wildlife viewing opportunities, the Division offers the NJ Wildlife Viewing Guide, a full-color, 160-page publication that showcases 87 sites throughout the state where people can observe and learn about New Jersey's incredible array of wildlife and the variety of habitats that support it. Sites are organized by region, each accompanied by directions, an ecological description, viewing opportunities and facility/amenity information. To order, send a check or money order for $14.90 (price includes shipping), payable to the NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, Attn: Viewing Guide.