ANOTHER Update on the Eel River Bald Eagle nest
Yesterday I spoke with Heather Beeler,
Regional Eagle Permit Coordinator for the United States Fish
& Wildlife Service (USFWS). She received a request from
PG&E “about a week ago” for emergency approval to take down
the nest tree, citing an imminent risk of fire hazard, and
approved that request by e-mail. She was very forthcoming and
explained the whole situation from a regional perspective. She
was also quite frank about her agency's position when confronted
with any proposed action intended to reduce wildfire risk: they
will never oppose such actions, fearing the liability. She also
is looking at things in a regional context.
Bald Eagles, as we know, have made a great
recovery and are repopulating their original range in
California. Their population growth is robust, which means
individual nests are no longer critical to the overall recovery.
This particular pair of Eagles has two nests
in their territory, as many Bald Eagle pairs do. The nest in
question seems to be favored by them and they used it to fledge
young for several years, but in some years they have used the
"alternative" nest - most recently in 2016, according to Ms.
Beeler. This is a strategy that makes them more resilient
against the catastrophic loss of a nest. If one nest is lost
during the nonbreeding season, the eagles can move to the other
for the next breeding season. Bald Eagles are highly
individualistic and their response to disturbance varies widely.
This pair has been established in this territory for many years,
producing several young, so it seems likely they would remain
and use their alternative nest.
This afternoon I spoke with Mike Best, Avian Protection Plan manager for PG&E. (A lot of his job consists of trying to prevent situations like this.) He says they discussed alternatives to removing the tree but the only feasible alternative is shutting off the power to that line during fire season. According to their arborist, the tree's condition has deteriorated in the past year or so, increasing the risk of falling onto the nearby power lines. So, they are back to the plan to send a crew out to cut the tree down.
At this point I think we have done what we could to protect the birds. No governmental agency is willing to step in. CDFW staff have been directed by their management to stay out of it, as the USFWS approval takes the matter out of their hands. If PG&E is prevented from doing the work, there may be repercussions to the tenant who raised this issue in the first place if the power is shut off. Simply delaying the work is likely to make things worse for the eagles; if it happens before they begin egg production, there is a better chance that they will move to their other nest.
I hope the alternate nest
can be monitored so we find out how the story ends.
Thank you for all this hard sleuthing, Tim. The process has been educational. Thank you for keeping us all informed.
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