As a child growing up in Lynchburg, home to more than five generations of my family, I learned to love the James River, the first great “highway” for European settlers in America. Over the years, I watched the river become less polluted, thanks to the federal Clean Water Act. I also saw the return of hawks soaring through the sky, thanks to the federal ban on the use of DDT. Now, the Lynchburg News & Advance is reporting that bald eagles have returned to the James.
A pair of bald eagles has been returning since 2002 and raising a couple of eaglets near the U.S. 29 Monacan Bridge, according to the Lynchburg Bird Club. Another pair of bald eagles had been nesting since 2003 in a tree along the James in Camp Saca-jawea, a Girl Scout property just upstream from Lynchburg. (Those eagles abandoned that nesting site last winter, perhaps because of people trying to photograph them. Eagles thrive in environments that are quiet and have clean water.)
The return of bald eagles to Virginia was first noted along the Chesapeake Bay and lower James River in the 1970s. Since then, they have been seen nesting as far west in Virginia as Highland County and Pulaski County. Now, my home town can be added to the list.
Bald eagles mate for life, usually around age 5, and build their nests in tall, mature trees near rivers or lakes. They usually return to the same nest year after year. Eagles have a lifespan of 25-30 years.
There were several reasons for the sharp decline in eagle population, resulting in their inclusion on the first endangered species list in 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act. They were hunted as predators of small farm animals. The large trees they nest in were cut for timber. The use of DDT caused a decline in calcium in bird eggs that devastated prey bird populations. Lead shot used for bird hunting was poisoning birds.
Now, as a result of sensible federal regulation of human behavior, our children and grandchildren can share this world with the bird that is the national symbol of the United States. There’s a lesson in there for the over-reaching, absurdly uninformed, egotistical attorney general Virginia now has, Ken Cuccinelli, who relishes stirring up wingnut trouble and seeing his name in the press.
Without sensible regulations enforced by the federal government, eagles would not be flying again in the skies over Lynchburg.