In 1965, the last known pair of bald eagles in New York State nested at the south end of Hemlock Lake in the Livingston County town of Springwater. Tom Rauber, an amateur naturalist at the time, discovered the birds. His research was an important contribution to the eventual recovery of the endangered species, from which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would pioneer a successful eagle restoration program.
Fast-forward 48 years to the development of The Finger Lakes Museum’s Discovery Campus in Branchport. Because of that restoration program – which may well be the greatest wildlife conservation success story in American history – the DEC is no longer engaged in bald eagle management. More than 300 nesting territories now exist across the state, and the raptor was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
As the DEC winds down its bald eagle research, it remains in possession of two rehabilitated birds that are incapable of survival in the wild. The agency has offered to give them to The Finger Lakes Museum to establish a live bald eagle educational exhibit.
Entitled “From the Brink of Extinction,” the combined live-species and static exhibit will tell the story of Tom Rauber’s discovery and the passionate efforts of the men who dedicated entire careers to the restoration of the bald eagle – not only in New York, but across the country and in parts of Canada. And it all started right here in the Finger Lakes Region, where more than 50 pairs of bald eagles are nesting today.
A permit to possess live bald eagles is not easy to come by. Even though they are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, they remain protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for educational and rehabilitation purposes only, and come with stringent conditions. The Finger Lakes Museum is chartered by the New York State Education Department and thereby qualifies.
Working with USFWS and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) guidelines, museum architects and exhibit designers are planning a bald eagle enclosure that will be built on the Branchport Campus this summer. Both of the DEC’s birds – 4-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Spirit – can fly, so the aviary will be large enough to accommodate their flight requirements.
But the most important element of this – and other aspects of developing the Branchport Campus – is raising the funds that we need to match $2.3 million in economic development grants that were awarded to the project by New York State. Please visit the website, www.fingerlakesmuseum.org, to contribute. The museum’s success depends on your gift!
John Adamski is a frequent contributor to this magazine and is president of the board of trustees of The Finger Lakes Museum. His 2008 article about the plight of the bald eagle in New York State, called “From the Brink of Extinction,” won a first-place Excellence in Craft Award from the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. It can be found at this link: lifeinthefingerlakes.com/articles.php?view=article&id=432.
by John Adamski