By Sarit Laschinsky / WDIY
This story is part of our series, Wild Pennsylvania. Check out all of our stories here.
A Northampton County legislator’s bill that passed in the state Senate would increase the penalties for illegal eagle killings in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 709 on Tuesday with a 48-2 vote.
The legislation would increase the state fine for killing a bald or golden eagle from $200 to $2,000. The act would remain a summary offense.
Democratic State Sen. Lisa Boscola, who sponsored the bill, said the fines would go toward replacement costs. She said according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, it costs $2,500 to replace a dead eagle.
Speaking on the floor, Boscola said SB 709 has two main goals.
“On one hand deter individuals from shooting bald eagles, and on the other hand, incentivize the Game Commission to charge someone who decides to ignore the law,” she explained.
Boscola said since 2018, 10 charges have been filed against individuals who unlawfully take or possess bald eagles, according to the Game Commission.
She made note of one recent case in May 2023 where a person was charged with – and confessed to – shooting and killing a bald eagle in Washington County.
“People are shooting these eagles for the fun of it, and that’s not okay,” Boscola said.
Boscola first introduced the legislation in August 2015. She said Pennsylvania needs to align with states like Ohio and Delaware, which have harsher monetary penalties for killing eagles.
The Senate Game and Fisheries Committee unanimously approved the legislation earlier in June. SB 709 now goes to the Pennsylvania House for consideration.
Even with the potential state law changes, Boscola said the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act continues to apply.
The statute was passed in 1940 to protect bald eagles and expanded in 1962 to include golden eagles. It prohibits anyone without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior from taking bald or golden eagles, including their parts, nests, and eggs.
Eagle populations faced near extinction in the mid-20th century due to poaching, hunting, pesticide use, and habitat destruction, but rebounded in the following decades after significant conservation efforts.
However, Boscola said the birds need to be protected as eagles generally mate for life, “so killing one bald eagle has the potential of affecting the population because these birds need both a mother and father to be raised to maturity.”
According to a release from Boscola’s office, the nesting population of bald eagles in Pennsylvania increased from three pairs in 1980, to 270 pairs in 2013, to over 300 today.
The bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007, and its status in Pennsylvania was changed to “protected” in 2014.