5th bald eagle freed from sludge of pond

U.S. officials consider charges against owner of Charles County mine

May 09, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Government biologists saved a fifth bald eagle yesterday from quicksandlike mire in a Charles County mine waste pond where four young eagles were rescued by helicopter Tuesday.

Federal wildlife officials began investigating whether to bring charges against the owner of the 10-acre pond near Nanjemoy that has claimed the lives of at least three young eagles.

State officials said the mine owner, Maryland Rock Industries Inc., is stationing a worker with an air horn beside the pond from dawn to dark to scare away the majestic birds, protected under the Endangered Species Act and other laws.

At least eight eagles have been ensnared by the pond, which holds a slurry of silt and water from a gravel mine, said Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman Charles F. Porcari.

Three birds were dead when they were plucked from the mire Tuesday, and officials think there may have been a fourth they were unable to reach. Four young eagles, in shock from their struggle to get free of the muck, were taken to the Baltimore Zoo Hospital that evening.

The fifth survivor, an adult male that got stuck in the pond yesterday, was also being treated at the zoo. All were expected to recover, Porcari said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is "in the infancy" of an investigation into possible violations of federal wildlife laws, said Salvatore M. Amato, chief of law enforcement for the wildlife agency's Maryland and Delaware office.

"There was no purposeful act intended to take eagles, but there could be a negligence issue," Amato said.

Mass deaths of eagles are rare in the East, and there has never been a case in Maryland involving deaths or injuries to so many at once, Amato said.

The birds are congregating in dense forests along the Potomac River as nesting season begins, wildlife managers said. State and federal scientists are working with the mine operators to find ways to keep the eagles away. They may mark the pond with flags, cover it with nets or set off propane cannons to scare the birds, Amato said.

"The permanent solution lies in getting the water out," said Paul Ceditto, director of DNR's wildlife and heritage division.

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