Ospreys make a comeback in Vermont

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(Host) The osprey could soon be removed from the state’s list of endangered species. As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, the bird’s comeback is a one-of-a-kind success story in Vermont.

(Zind) If, as expected, the osprey is taken off the state’s endangered list, it will be first time a Vermont species has been de-listed as a result of successful efforts to revive it.

Ospreys nearly disappeared in the 1960’s due to the use of DDT. The pesticide was banned in 1972. By then the damage to Vermont’s osprey population was done. John Gobeille is a state wildlife biologist.

(Gobeille) “I think we were down to none in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. It was a real slow comeback from the early, mid-1980’s when we had one or two pairs up. Since the mid-1990’s, it seems to have really taken off.”

(Zind) Fifty nesting pairs of ospreys now reside in Vermont. The large raptor with its brown and white plumage, sharply curved beak and wingspan of up to six feet is becoming a familiar sight in some areas around Lake Champlain and there are efforts under way to establish nests along the Connecticut River.

Gobeille says the osprey comeback was accelerated with a helping hand from man-made nesting platforms which made up for a shortage of good natural sites. The platforms are placed atop specially erected power poles. Erecting them has been a pet project of Central Vermont Public Service. Steve Costello is with the utility.

(Costello) “Installing these platforms required utility style equipment, so it was a natural for us to get involved. That could have been the end of the story but Meeri Zetterstrom’s passion and excitement really transferred to a lot of people here.”

(Zind) Meeri Zetterstrom is the Saint Albans woman who lobbied the state and the utility to become more active in protecting the osprey.

One sign of the bird’s rapid comeback in recent years is the fact that it’s leapfrogging from endangered to complete de-listing. John Gobeille says usually an endangered species is downlisted to “threatened” before it’s completely taken off the list.

(Gobeille) “I think it’s pretty monumental to go right straight to a de-listing process. It’s just indicative of the bird’s success.”

(Zind) As migratory birds, ospreys will still be protected by federal law. Two other Vermont birds – the peregrine falcon and the common loon are also edging toward the day they’ll be taken off the endangered list.

(Gobeille) “Those two species are also doing better. They’re not doing as good as the osprey, but their numbers have also increased.”

(Zind) The final decision on removing the osprey from the endangered list rests with the head of the state’s Agency of Natural Resources.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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