Two face fines in eaglets' deaths ATVs driven through a restricted area scared off the young eagles' parents, Montco's only nesting pair.

Posted: May 09, 2003

On March 27, two all-terrain vehicles roared through a restricted area of Green Lane Park, scaring Montgomery County's only known pair of nesting bald eagles away from their newly hatched young. Since then, the Upper Perkiomen Valley has mourned the loss of the eaglets, which apparently were devoured by crows the next day.

Yesterday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Game Commission charged two Pennsburg men with entering the restricted area and disturbing the nest. Larry P. Miller, 61, and his son Michael T. Miller, 30, are charged with interfering with active nests of a threatened or endangered species, entering a restricted area, and disturbing game or wildlife.

They face fines of up to $3,400 and a possible six months in prison if convicted. Neither man could be reached for comment last night.

William Vroman, wildlife conservation officer at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said witnesses saw the ATVs and reported them to park personnel. But by the time the commission could investigate, the ATVs had left the area. Witnesses did not see license plate numbers, so it took commission officers some time to locate the suspects, Vroman said.

Bald eagles are protected under federal law and remain on Pennsylvania's endangered species list.

As recently as the 1970s, there was only one known eagle nest in Pennsylvania. But with careful protection and reintroduction, the bald eagle population has rebounded.

In 2002, according to the Game Commission, there were 63 nesting eagle pairs, marking an increase of more than 150 percent in five years. The state's largest nesting county is Crawford, followed by Lancaster County, the Game Commission said.

The Montgomery County Parks Department and the Game Commission had been working together to protect the nest in Green Lane Park, knowing that eagles may abandon eggs or leave their young vulnerable to predators if disturbed.

Vroman said other eagles had been seen in Montgomery County, but this was the only known nest.

"Generally, eagles will have a nest in a secluded type area," Vroman said. But as the number of bald eagles in Pennsylvania has increased, the birds have spread into more populated counties.

"New nests are popping up in areas that are not quite as secluded," Vroman said.

Frank Ball, superintendent of Green Lane Park, said the area around the eagles' nest was marked clearly with signs that said it was a protected area. The stretch of Green Lane Reservoir near the nest was also marked off with buoys so that boats would not disturb the birds.

"As soon as we saw them a year and a half ago, we put up signs," Ball said.

The eagles hatched their first fledglings in February 2002, but all of the young died, Ball said. This year, the young hatched around March 19, and nature lovers in the valley were hoping they would survive.

Ball said he didn't know whether the eagles would return to the nest next year.

"They're still being seen in the area, so we're hoping they will continue to stay here."

Contact staff writer Leslie Pappas at 610-313-8125 or lpappas@phillynews.com.

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