AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department is in the process of conducting a census of bald eagles, and biologists believe the project will show healthy growth.

Charles Todd, who runs the state’s endangered and threatened species program, believes the number of nesting pairs will top 300 for the first time since eagles were decimated by chemicals following World War II.

Maine’s population of bald eagles is the biggest in the Northeast. In 2001, there were 269 nesting pairs.

The growing number of bald eagles means more interactions with people, who are learning to make adjustments.

For example, Camden didn’t set off fireworks on the Fourth of July to avoid disturbing a pair nesting offshore on Curtis Island, near the mouth of the harbor where the rockets are usually fired.

The state imposed a quarter-mile zone around the island to protect the nest, which has a baby eaglet.

The growth in Maine and across the nation offers evidence of a strong recovery as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepares to remove bald eagles from the endangered species list.

Nationwide, the number of mating pairs in the Lower 48 more than doubled in the past decade to more than 6,000.

Those numbers compare to fewer than 500 breeding pairs, including 21 in Maine, back in 1963 as the number of bald eagles dwindled because of hunting, loss of habitat and the pesticide DDT.

Following passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the bald eagle was classified as endangered in most of the Lower 48.

Because of healthy growth, bald eagles were downgraded from endangered to threatened in 1995, and the government announced in 1999 that it planned to remove bald eagles from the endangered species list altogether.

“It’s inevitable and it’s coming, whether it’s one year away or three years away,” Todd said. “The numbers are there. They’re just working on safeguards because we don’t want to see a decline when eagles are removed from listing.”

Maine requires landowners to avoid building or other activity within a quarter-mile radius around a nest that may disrupt eagles while they raise their young during their breeding season.

State wildlife biologist Jim Connolly said his staff works with landowners to enforce the state’s essential habitat law.

“We found people are wonderful in terms of their cooperation,” he said. “They consider it a wonderful thing to have eagles there and typically they’re very protective about what happens to the eagles in their area.”

For the most part, eagles in Maine mean bald eagles.

Golden eagles, prevalent in the western United States and which prefer high mountainous regions, are considered the rarest breeding bird in the eastern United States, Todd said.

Based on occasional sightings, Todd suspects there may be one or two pairs of golden eagles in the state.

“It’s about thousand-to-one odds if you see an eagle it’s a bald eagle and not a golden,” he said.

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