Outdoor adventures: ENF leading fight for eagles

Adam Feiner
Adam Feiner

JoDaviess County is considered one of the most beautiful parts of the state, and for good reason.

There is a reason why former Chicago Bulls stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen owned homes in the Galena Territories, after all.

One of the iconic birds of the area is the bald eagle, despite alarmingly low numbers of sightings in recent years. On March 26, a local organization filed important paperwork
in an effort to keep eagles part of the scene along most of Illinois’ waterways.

The Eagle Nature Foundation (ENF) filed a petition last month along with the US Fish & Wildlife Service to place the bald eagle back on the Endangered Species List. The petition was signed by about 2,000 people.

The ENF’s decision to act came because fewer eagles are being seen in the area, and the number and percentage of young birds being recorded on 58 years’ worth of mid-winter counts has been trending in the wrong direction.

The data collected in northwest Illinois is contrary to the overall status of the bald eagle in the U.S. The species’ population is increasing across the country, but not along the banks of the Upper Mississippi River.

Bald eagles were removed from the federal government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995, and has not been considered “threatened” since June 8, 2007.

Terrence Ingram is the executive director of the Eagle Nature Foundation, and the organization is based in Apple River. Ingram has been running tours to see the birds since 1961, but won’t run his service next year because he can’t guarantee any sightings.

“They aren’t producing the young ones,” Ingram said. “I know a researcher in western Montana, and he says that they’re being affected by glyphosphate and being born with defects.”

Glyphosphate is the main ingredient in Roundup, which is the most heavily-used herbicide in the world. In addition to chemicals, diseases like West Nile, and a natural factor such as starvation could be leading to fewer sightings.

Ingram and volunteers realized that several dams along the Mississippi River didn’t have a single bald eagle in the nests this winter. The official count number for 2017-18 came to 230, down 69 birds from a year ago.

Locals can help in trying to help the species recover, and you don’t even need to be a volunteer. Ingram said that people need to be more aware of how many nests are harboring mature and immature eagles around their homes.

“We need people to monitor eagle nests near them,” Ingram said. “Wildlife officers can’t see the nests, so how can they say that they’re increasing? We’re not seeing the young. Last year, one of the volunteers in Tennessee had 28 people on his tours. This year, he had none. If they’ve gone south, where are they?”

I’ve traveled over, on and alongside the Rock River plenty since I started working here at SVM, and can honestly say that I’ve only seen a handful of eagles. Nests aren’t as numerous as they once were, and it’s easy to tell.

If actions aren’t taken on a local level, bald eagles will become a rare sight, just like a decade ago when the species was almost wiped out completely in the contiguous
United States.

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