Pennsylvania Game Commissioners agreed to put the agency’s osprey management plan out for public review.
But that doesn’t mean they like it.
Patti Barber, a biologist in the commission’s endangered and nongame bird section, said ospreys were never widespread across Pennsylvania. But populations of the raptor have been increasing in recent decades, she added.
There was one nesting pair in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1996, and just 27 statewide, for example. By 2010 there were 18 in the southwest and 115 statewide.
The osprey management plan, meant to guide management decisions through 2025, calls for restoring the birds to the point where, for two consecutive years, there are at least 50 nesting pairs in at least four watershed-based populations clusters, each with at least 10 nesting pairs.
Then, Barber said, the commission could consider taking the birds off its threatened species list.
That’s all well and good, said commissioner Brian Hoover of Chester County. It’s nice to see the birds recovering.
But anyone reading the plan is going to wonder why the commission hasn’t delisted ospreys already, given that the birds have reached the population levels it outlines, he said.
“I’m not sure what we’re trying to achieve,” Hoover said.
It’s a question of timing, said Dan Brauning, wildlife diversity division chief. The commission should have had an official osprey plan years ago – when the birds were still rare — but didn’t, largely because there wasn’t enough manpower to get it written, he said.
“So we’re sort of playing catch-up here,” Brauning said.
Indeed, the commission’s first-ever non-game bird plan is the one for bald eagles, and it was written just four years ago, said Doug Gross, endangered and non-game bird section supervisor.
Commissioners aren’t convinced. They agreed to put the plan out for public comment just so that people could see it, said commissioner Tim Layton of Windber. But that doesn’t mean they will give it final approval as is, he added. Biologists may have to change the goals, he hinted.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that if that same plan comes back to the board for final approval, it might have a tougher time getting the same level of support,” Layton said.
An osprey sits on a nest at a western Pennsylvania lake. The birds are expanding in number and range across the state.