EDITORIAL: Eyes on the eagles
Two of York County's most recognizable celebrities don't send out news releases.
They don't post tweets or Facebook messages, They don't know exactly how many people are watching them, all the time, day and night.
And yet, people can't take their eyes off the show.
The eagles nesting near Codorus State Park have fascinated us for three years, since the Pennsylvania Game Commission set up cameras to view the nest and began live-streaming the views.
The first year, two eggs were laid, two eaglets hatched, and they both fledged. Last year, one chick died after two days, and the other egg didn't hatch. In June, part of the nest collapsed, and the live-stream ended early.
This season, it's back. The cameras were turned on at the end of December, before the mated pair, dubbed Freedom and Liberty by the online community, returned to do some housekeeping to prepare for this year's young.
The eagles are now sitting on two eggs, and people are watching them online and going to Codorus to see them in person, from a distance. Eagle expert Karen Lippy sets up on weekends at the park to show fans the pair through high-powered lenses, far enough away to not disturb the nesting, which takes place on private property. People must stay at least 1,000 feet away from the nest to avoid disturbing the eagles, according to the game commission.
The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the biggest success stories in conservation history, fueled by the federal Endangered Species Act.
Eagle populations across the country were decimated by DDT in the 1950s and '60s. The chemical pesticide weakened the birds' eggshells, and most eggs broke before they hatched. By 1980, there were only three nesting pairs left in Pennsylvania, according to the game commission.
The birds were reintroduced to the commonwealth through federal and state funding from 1983 to 1989, with eaglets from Canada brought to Pennsylvania to fledge with the hope they would return here to nest.
The program worked. By 2000, there were 48 active nests in the state, and by 2011 there were more than 200. There are now around 300 nesting pairs around Pennsylvania, with several nesting sites around York County.
The recovery has gone so well that bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007, and in Pennsylvania their status rose from endangered to protected in 2014. The birds are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Act and the Lacey Act, which bans trafficking in illegal wildlife.
The administration of President Donald Trump has many environmentalists concerned about the possibility of gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act in the quest for fewer regulations and higher employment in traditional fuel industries such as oil and coal.
Perhaps Trump and new EPA chief (and former EPA critic and lawsuit filer) Scott Pruitt need to spend some time watching the eagle cams at hdontap.com and reading the comments from the birdwatchers keeping their eyes on the pair.
Freedom and Liberty are living symbols of this country, and they wouldn't be here if it weren't for the protections laid out by the federal and state governments and the people who worked to return them to their natural habitat in central Pennsylvania.
It's our duty to protect them from harm.