FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 5, 2001
The HCP was developed by Crescent on behalf of several lakefront owners in the new Southpointe Subdivision where home construction activities were halted when the Service confirmed a bald eagle's nest at the site. Our country's national symbol, the bald eagle is listed by the Service as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In order to protect the eagles and their nest during the nesting season, the Service restricted activities within a 750-foot radius of the nest, including a temporary moratorium on residential construction.
"The Service's authorization of Crescent's HCP will allow the development activities surrounding the nest to resume in exchange for Crescent's commitment to provide alternative nesting sites for the bald eagles," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director.
Under the HCP developed by Crescent, six alternative nesting sites will be provided on Crescent's land elsewhere around Lake James and maintained for the duration of the 50-year plan. These potential nesting sites were recommended by Dr. J. H. Carter, Crescent's environmental consultant, and the Service for their potential suitability and will be monitored and managed to encourage use of the sites by eagles. All six sites are currently in undeveloped areas, and at two of these nesting sites, Crescent will install manmade nesting platforms to further encourage their use by the eagles.
"We want to ensure that the eagles stay in the area," said Crescent Vice President Steve Schreiner. "We believe, that by providing alternate nesting sites, the eagles will continue to nest around Lake James, even if the current nest is lost due to natural causes."
"We appreciate the cooperation and support of the landowners during this process," said Hamilton. "They have shown incredible flexibility in postponing construction so that these activities will not harm nesting eagles."
In April, the Service and forest pest specialists from the U.S. Forest Service in Asheville determined that the pine tree containing the eagle nest had been attacked by southern pine beetles, and that the nest tree would probably die within a short time. The pine beetle attack is just part of a larger infestation that has killed pine trees across much of western North Carolina and surrounding states. After the tree dies, the eagles may continue to nest in the tree until the weight of the nest, decay, and wind combine to cause the tree and nest to fall.
"It is not unusual for bald eagles to shift to a new nest within their territory if habitat conditions change," said Mark Cantrell, the Service biologist who helped crescent develop the HCP. "Eagles are surprisingly resilient and are known to tolerate human activity, as shown by their appearance in the SouthPointe subdivision two years after development began. We expect these eagles to return to Lake James next nesting season, although it may be at another site if the current tree dies. Hopefully, they'll choose one of the provided alternate nest sites; but, if they don't, Crescent has agreed to protect the site they choose."
In evaluating whether or not to issue Crescent's incidental take permit, the Service considered a number of factors including the adequacy of Crescent's efforts to minimize or mitigate the effects of the HCP on the eagles, Crescent's commitment to fund and implement the HCP, and whether or not the HCP would appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the bald eagle in the wild. The Service was also required to ensure compliance with other applicable federal laws, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGPA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
The decision to issue the permit was based upon these Service analyses, the public comments received, and the latest scientific information about how eagles respond to human-induced changes around nesting sites. The Service is authorized by the ESA to issue the take permit for activities that might disturb or harm endangered or threatened species. However, the proposed actions cannot jeopardize, or lead to the extinction of the species, and the actions must be considered otherwise lawful activities.
More than 400 letters were received during a 30-day public comment period. Most of the comments received wanted the plan stopped in order to curtail development around Lake James, which the Service has no authority to do, or were based on erroneous information. For example, many letters contained an erroneous contention that the Service was allowing Crescent to cut down the nest tree with the eagles still in the tree. The nest tree will not be cut down and will be protected by buffers and other development restrictions until it becomes unsuitable for nesting eagles or it becomes a safety hazard when the tree dies. The pair of bald eagles reached maturity this season and is caring for a young eaglet in the nest, bringing fish regularly to the growing bird. The young eagle, already nearly as large as the adults, will likely be strong enough to leave the nest this month. After that time, the family of eagles is expected to forage on Lake James or leave for better feeding grounds along the Atlantic Coast. Bald eagles are migratory birds which often depart for northern climates during the summer.
In 1999, the Service proposed to remove the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species based on significant population increases while it was under the protection of the ESA.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286