EAGLE ON ALLIANCE
Dedicated to keeping the Bald Eagles at Norfolk Botanical Garden safe from any harm
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 5, 2013
BALD EAGLES CONTINUE TO BUILD NEST AFTER NEST
AT NORFOLK BOTANICAL GARDEN
After five months of harassment, eagles refuse to leave their territory
Eagle advocacy group seeks humane solutions
Media Contact: Carol Senechal, Eagle On Alliance, 757-619-4343
Norfolk, Virginia – After more than five months of harassment by the USDA with paintball guns, pyrotechnics, lights and the removal of five nests that they have built since early October, the resident bald eagles at Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG) aren’t leaving. This cruel treatment of our national symbol and the damage being done to the Garden through “tree modification” isn’t working and there is no proof that the methods being used to force the eagles to relocate have ever worked – at least not for this species of raptor.
As the eagles begin building their sixth nest at the Garden, and the expenses associated with these dispersal programs pile up, Eagle On Alliance (EOA) continues to insist that there are better proven methods to protect Norfolk International Airport (ORF) and the bald eagles and that it is time to stop the futile harassment of these birds.
Eagle On Alliance is a 785-member world-wide group dedicated to researching solutions to the issues that serve both the best interests of the NBG bald eagles and preserve airport safety. EOA is also part of a much larger network of thousands of citizens in the City of Norfolk, across the Commonwealth, across the region and around the world who champion the bald eagles at NBG. The NBG eagles became one of the most watched and loved nesting pair of bald eagles in the world. This citizen’s network is credited with bringing attention and thousands of dollars in grants to the Garden and many, many visitors to Norfolk thus providing a positive economic impact for the city.
It is the belief of EOA, that when the City of Norfolk supported the request to remove the eagles’ nests at NBG and then harass the eagles, the City did not realize the full impact this action would have, including the economic impact on NBG. Donations to the Garden have dropped significantly.
After spending countless hours conducting research, speaking with wildlife biologists, environmental lawyers, officials of the state and federal wildlife agencies and local officials, and after reviewing over 2,000 pages of documents received as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Norfolk International Airport (ORF), EOA has found more constructive solutions to the situation.
Through this research, EOA concluded that the issue is not about “dangerous eagles”. While we understand and respect the importance of passenger safety at ORF, and the safety of the eagles, we found that the chance of an eagle strike at ORF is .00000438356. Only one eagle with ties to NBG has been struck in 22 years. And in the 22 years of record keeping for bird strikes, the American Bald Eagle only makes up .001 of a percentage point in all bird strike records in the United States. The fact remains, that other types of wild life such as gulls, geese and flocking birds present a much greater risk to ORF’s passengers than eagles.
In addition, documentation received through our FOIA requests to ORF shows that the underlying issues are budgetary and the resulting insufficient wild life mitigation efforts by ORF. Reports show that although the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) recommended a larger budget for mitigation efforts, ORF’s management questioned the estimate and requested a budget for half of the amount recommended.
Documentation shows that a USDA staff person only works 60 hours a month at the airport which includes airport services and now NBG services. This equates to less than three hours a day. ORF has stated that they have other staff members and even volunteers (?) to assist with mitigation, but ORF staff members only provide mitigation services as a “collateral” duty. And wildlife mitigation does not appear as a “line item” on ORF’s annual budget.
From the very beginning, NBG eagle advocates asked the City to delay requesting a permit for nest removal to form a committee to study all other mitigation options. One request that was repeatedly mentioned during discussions, emails and public comments was the use of Avian Radar Systems to assist with all wildlife mitigation at ORF. While ORF’s Executive Director Wayne Shank indicated to The Virginian-Pilot that the airport had looked into this as an option for airport safety, it is clear through documentation we received that this was not the case. Mr. Shank also added that avian radar is a tool that would not have prevented the death of two eagles in 2011. We strongly disagree.
All research we conducted shows that Avian Radar, while relatively new technology, is already making an impact in the reduction of bird strikes at private, commercial and military airports worldwide. In fact, the FAA has endorsed the use of Avian Radar Systems to the point that they are offering AIP grant funds to Part 139 airports. ORF is a Part 139 airport and would be eligible for these grants. While Mr. Shank said that the death of the two eagles wouldn’t have been prevented, our research shows that the death of the NBG female eagle (“Mom Norfolk”) could have been prevented by either proper mitigation efforts or through an Avian Radar system.
Airport tower reports of the strike show that the airplane pilot that landed on “Mom Norfolk” reported to air traffic control that two eagles were seen eating a fish on the end of the runway. Instead of telling the pilot to fly over while the eagles were dispersed, no word of caution was received from the tower and the pilot proceeded to land on the female eagle. The strike report also states that pilots were not warned of wildlife in the vicinity. The male eagle, fortunately, flew off. But the female eagle was killed, causing damage to the airplane’s landing gear when she rose to get out of the way.
If Avian Radar had been in place, an alarm would have alerted air traffic control and the incoming flight of the presence of the eagles in the vicinity. Avian Radar systems can track the movement of almost all wild life in air space both vertically and horizontally.
In addition, the current Wildlife Hazard Management Plan for ORF signed by the FAA on January 25, 2011, states in section 139,337(f)(5)(iv) “Communication between wildlife control personnel and any air traffic control tower in operation at the airport: “All wildlife control personnel are equipped with radios and have proper training to contact the air traffic control tower. If an immediate hazard exists that might compromise the safety of air traffic at ORF, the Director of Operations or the Wildlife Coordinator shall coordinate with the air traffic control tower, and if necessary, detain arriving or departing air traffic until the hazard is eliminated. In extreme cases, the runway may need to be closed temporarily at the discretion of the Director of Operations. Although the air traffic control tower cannot be expected to monitor all wildlife hazards on the airfield and still direct air traffic, tower personnel regularly notify the Fire Department immediately if pilots report hazards or any such hazards are observed from the tower.”
The pilot of the plane that struck the female eagle on April 26, 2011 reported seeing two eagles on the runway. Where was the ORF Fire Department and why wasn’t it dispatched?
While the events that occurred on April 26, 2011 were unfortunate, what is even more troubling is that the NBG eagles have become a scapegoat for improper mitigation efforts at ORF. The picture presented by ORF to wildlife agencies and the City of Norfolk indicated that the eagles at NBG had suddenly become an emergency threat to life and property even though the eagles have nested at the Garden for more than ten years.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the USDA convinced City of Norfolk officials that they had no choice but to support the next step of nest removal as the way to solve the problem. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) merely recommended removal. The Administration did not mandate nest removal. Scare tactics were used by the USDA to convince the City Manager’s Office that there was no choice but to remove the nests.
Our research also shows there actually was another option that could have been included in the City of Norfolk’s application for a nest removal permit. Federal Register document dated September 11, 2009, U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, 50 CFR Parts 13 and 22, Eagle Permits; “Take Necessary to Protect Interests in Particular Localities; Final Rule” indicates that through these rules, the City of Norfolk could have asked for the permit to allow the USFWS and USDA to relocate the nest to an alternate location or provide a substitute nest in a safe area of the eagles’ territory and attract the eagles to those safer locations.
On page 44, Section 22.27, Removal of Eagles Nests, (a) (2), it states “Where practicable and biologically warranted, the permit may require a nest to be relocated, or a substitute nest provided, in a suitable site within the same territory to provide a viable nesting option for eagles within that territory, unless such relocation would create a threat to safety. However, we may issue permits to remove nests that we determine cannot or should not be relocated.”
In discussions with Eliza Savage, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Department of Interior in Arlington, Virginia, who is the Department’s contact for this document, she stated that the option of nest relocation was indeed a possibility for the NBG eagles. Her office is well aware of the NBG eagles and the efforts of Eagle On Alliance. She advised that we should indeed ask the City of Norfolk why this provision was not included in the original nest removal permit application.
When the City was asked this question, the response from the City Manager’s office was “We didn’t know.”
Ms. Savage also suggested we contact Sarah Nystrom in the Region 5 office of USFWS in Hadley, Massachusetts, the office that issued Norfolk’s nest removal permit. Ms. Nystrom is also well aware of the plight of the eagles at NBG and was quite helpful in addressing this issue. She advised that normally the relocation efforts are begun ahead of actual nest removal but that it was not too late to put plans into place. We believe this plan may have provided one solution for the airport, the eagles, NBG and the City of Norfolk.
We suggested joining the City Manager’s Office to make a formal announcement that a resolution had been presented. In addition, this solution would have allowed more time for ORF and the City of Norfolk to research Avian Radar systems – a much better alternative for protecting our passengers and all of the wildlife surrounding ORF. Eagle On Alliance founder Carol Senechal and City Councilman Tommy Smigiel met with City Manager Marcus Jones and Assistant to the City Manager Wynter Benda on January 28, 2013, to discuss this and other beneficial solutions to the issues concerning airport safety and the pair of bald eagles residing at (NBG).
We hoped that the city would consider this as one of the options for moving forward. We were ready to partner with the city on a more sensible solution and tell the thousands of supporters and the media that the City of Norfolk would, indeed, do the right thing. But the City Manager’s office repeatedly delayed the process of finding alternate nesting sites by questioning our research, even though we presented hundreds of pages of that research to Mr. Jones and Mr. Benda. The delay has extended for more than four weeks.
At our January 28 meeting, EOA again also officially requested that the City of Norfolk discontinue the USFWS Eagle Nest Removal permit and delay by one year any further removal of nests and any further harassment of the NBG eagles. We hoped that at some point, there would be a realization that both man and Mother Nature could coexist side by side. This is the same position that EOA has held since July of 2012.
The challenges of wildlife existing near airports have been solved by many other communities by using some of the recommendations we presented. Sadly, no such solution has been reached or researched by the City of Norfolk.
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