Protecting the Bald Eagle Nesting Site in Pembroke Pines, Florida

(This is a working Draft for review and comments)

e-mail comments/additions/corrections to Ken Schneider

PEMBROKE PINES BALD EAGLES
Nest Watch Page
History of the Eagle Nest
Long Term Policy Recommendations
Status Report as of November, 2013
Eagle NestWatch FORUM
FAQs
Resources
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Under Construction

A CHANGE IN FOCUS--Where do we go from here?

During the four months that the Pembroke Pines Bald Eagles refurbished their nest, courted, laid their eggs, hatched them out, fledged their chicks and as the two eaglets gained independence of their parents, this Web suite and  FORUM have been devoted to communication between members of the cadre of dedicated volunteer nest watchers and the general public. It is open to anyone who wishes to comment or simply read the posts.

Our primary concern has been with the activities of the birds at and near the nest. We have discovered much about their habits and life cycle. We have interacted with visitors of all ages, ranging from those who were seeing a live Bald Eagle in the wild for the first time, a few who were expert researchers and  professional nature photographers, and  a vast number in between. We have learned from them and felt our own enthusiasm increase as we watched a child's eyes grow wide with excitement, and septuagenarians express awe upon seeing the majestic birds for the first time in their lives.

According to the 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bald Eagle Management Plan, local governments are statutorily required to include a conservation element in their comprehensive plans for the conservation, use, and protection of natural resources, including fisheries and wildlife, pursuant to Chapter 163, F.S. The City of Pembroke Pines has already proven itself as a friend of all wildlife, as evidenced by its numerous parks and nature centers. The City's response to the problems associated with the media attention given to the Bald Eagle nest, and the resulting thousands of observers, was sensitive, prompt, and appropriate. Pembroke Pines officials are already be planning to create a sanctuary at the nest site, and develop an ordinance to ensure that developers properly protect eagle nesting areas. We hope that residents of the City provide their full support and encouragement.

Therefore, we will keep the FORUM open, to permit everyone to express their views about what they feel should be included in any future plans. Of course, we should also keep each other informed as to what is new on the "eagle front," whether links to stories and Web cams, information about eagle conservation and concerns, or just to stay in touch until next December, when the cycle will (hopefully) begin all over again. 

UPDATE: April 14, 2009.  With representatives of Broward Audubon and Greater Ft Lauderdale  Flyways Cities Coalition (National Wildlife Federation affiliate), we met this afternoon with Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis. The Mayor said he just got back from a meeting in Tallahassee, where people from the northern part of the state knew about his famous eagles. He was pleased to learn that it is on City property, thus allowing direct control over whatever may be done.

I outlined my vision as to the long term planning in anticipation of the eagles' annual return, using the model in the green box below.  Mayor Ortis was very enthusiastic about the idea of a Pembroke Pines Eagle Sanctuary. He was responsive to our concerns about the priority we felt should be given to protecting the nest from wild fire. The other participants had great ideas about finding additional resources to assist in establishing a more permanent refuge for the eagles.

The Mayor wishes to appoint a steering committee to develop and prioritize the necessary tasks. Audubon will take the lead in advising the structure of such a group, which will also explore and recommend an "Eagle Ordinance"  for the City. I was amazed at his enthusiasm, and we left the meeting feeling very optimistic.

UPDATE: August 3, 2009. Mayor Frank Oris has since appointed a steering committee of citizens that includes eagle watchers, South Florida Audubon officials, an eagle biologist, a member of the School Board, representatives of Flyway Cities Coalition, and key staff from the City of Pembroke Pines. He asked the steering committee to provide advice concerning the establishment of a Bald Eagle Sanctuary and also to draft an Eagle Protection Ordinance for his review.

Links to minutes and documents relating to the work of the Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee may be found on the Nest Watch Page.  

Framework for Development of Long Term Policies:

A Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary?
(Presented to Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis on April 14, 2009)
Nest is located on City of Pembroke Pines Property
    No present plans for disposition or development
    Dense 27 acre stand, mostly Melaleuca and Australian Pines
    South Florida Water Management District land to south and west
    Residential development to north and east

Anticipate annual return of eagles from early October into early May
    Ongoing legal and fiduciary duty of City to protect nest
    FWC Bald Eagle Management Plan provides guidelines for land use

Public safety issues
    Temporary, during nesting season
            Visitor surge, traffic, parking, signage, viewing area
            Education of public
    Ongoing
            Fire danger
   
Measures needed to assure safety of eagles
    Install permanent fencing
    Preserve nest tree and roosting trees (Australian Pines)
    Reduce fuel load and danger of wildfire laddering to nest tree
            Clear deadfalls and understory,
            Clear-cut fire break around nest tree
    Improve habitat
            Remove exotics (Melaleucas, Brazilian Pepper, etc)
            Restore native flora

Initiate City planning process
    In-house expertise
        City Manager           
        Parks and Recreation
        Planning & Zoning
        Police
        Public Services
        Utilities
    Input from FWC, public, eagle biologists, Audubon, conservation-oriented groups
    Obtain model local regulations
    Consider “Eagle Ordinance”

Limited time frame for action
    Activities within 330 feet of nest must take place outside nesting season
    Standing water and storms in late summer may impede activities
    Need to prioritize and phase actions
    FWC Permit not required after nesting season but is recommended

Need for interagency coordination
    Utilities
        All should be made aware of restrictions during nesting season
        Actives in easement near nest do not require permit from city
        If possible, spare roost trees by using directional pruning near power lines
    Other government entities & permittees
        Should be informed of obligations under FWC guidelines

Sources of expert assistance (Partial list)
    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
    Florida Division of Forestry
    Florida state and local Audubon Societies
    Greater Fort Lauderdale Flyways Cities Coalition
    Environmental consulting firms

Determine Priorities
    Immediate   
        Clear-cut fire break around nest tree
        Mechanical clearing necessary with removal of piles
        Controlled burn/pile burning not feasible
        Remove deadfalls nearest to nest tree
    Intermediate
        Reduce fuel load in entire wooded area
        Install permanent fencing
        Develop "Eagle Ordinance"
    Long-range
        Remove certain exotics but spare larger Australian Pines
        Introduce native flora
        Public education/interpretation
            Signage
            Trained volunteer docents during breeding season                     
       

RESOURCES

Selected Excerpts: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bald Eagle Management Plan (Adopted April 9, 2008)
[My annotations are in brackets. Ken]

The goal of this management plan is to maintain a stable or increasing population of bald eagles throughout Florida in perpetuity. To achieve this goal, bald eagles and their nests must continue to be protected through science-based management, regulation, public education, and law enforcement.

Definition of Nesting Season: In Florida, the period 1 October–15 May, unless the young fledge before or after 15 May.

Bald eagle nesting habitats are protected by law, but little or no emphasis has yet been placed on the preservation of roosting or foraging habitats (Mojica 2006). [The city property, as well as the SFWMD land to the west, contains roosting sites that should be identified and protected to the extent possible]

The USFWS (2007b) has redefined some of the terminology included in the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits the unpermitted “take” of bald eagles, including their nests or eggs. The act defines “take” to mean to “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb” an eagle. The new definition of “disturb” is to “agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to the degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior” (USFWS 2007This management plan adopts the federal definition of “disturb” in 50 C.F.R. 22.3 and Florida’s definition of “take” in Rule 68A-1.004, F.A.C.

Powerlines cause eagle mortality in two ways, by electrocution and collision. Powerlines accounted for 19% of the mortality of bald eagles in Florida during 1963–1994, with electrocution representing more than 86% of this total (Forrester and Spalding 2003). Power companies in Florida have not yet retrofitted older distribution lines with modern features to reduce the incidence of eagle electrocutions. [Three-phase high voltage lines are located about 150 feet north of the nest tree]

The FWC encourages land management practices that benefit bald eagles by decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, by maintaining healthy forests, and by providing suitable nest trees. These management practices include the use of prescribed fire, removal of exotic species, reduction of excess fuel loads, thinning of overstocked stands, replanting with native species (primarily pines), and uneven-aged timber management. [Note that this nest is one of the 26 Florida Bald Eagle nests that were placed in exotic Australian Pines (19 live and 7 dead trees).]

Bald eagles frequently feed at landfills, and some eagles have been killed by secondary pentobarbital poisoning from feeding on carcasses of euthanized animals. For this reason, it is imperative to incinerate or quickly bury the bodies of euthanized animals. [Is this an issue that must also be addressed, as there are public landfills located within 2 miles of the nest?]

One of the most important components of the enforcement strategy is ensuring compliance through education. [Thers are already a number of local residents who have demonstrated a willingness to assist the City in providing information and interpretation]

Some bald eagle pairs in Florida tolerate disturbance much closer than 660 feet from the nest, and the behavior of eagles nesting close to or within developed areas seems to be increasing in Florida. Bald eagle use of urban areas is a relatively new event, and the long-term stability of urban eagle territories has not been documented fully.

The FWC will not issue citations to or seek prosecution of persons whose activities are conducted consistent with the FWC Eagle Management Guidelines, even if the activity results in a “take” or disturbance of bald eagles.

Certain land management practices benefit bald eagles and their habitats. Land management practices that retain old-growth native pines and that decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfire or an outbreak of timber disease are recommended. [Obviously, land management in this case must retain those Australian Pines that are used for nesting and roosting, as well as additional mature pines that may serve as alternate nesting sites. This land may not provide a suitable substrate for introducing native pines, but this might be explored as a longer term management issue.]

Avoid timber harvesting, replanting, or other silvicultural operations, including road construction and chain saw and yarding operations, within 660 feet of the nest tree during the nesting season. [But, see following excerpt.]

When appropriate to reduce fuel loads, land managers should consider mechanical treatment of the area within 330 feet outside the nesting season to allow for a safer growing-season burn. [A controlled burn is not feasible or safe, but mechanical clearing is the recommended method near the nest area.]

A permit is not required to conduct any particular activity, but is necessary to avoid liability for take or disturbance caused by the activity. Therefore, any land-altering activity within 660 feet of an active or alternate bald eagle nest that cannot be undertaken consistent with the FWC Eagle Management Guidelines may require a FWC eagle permit. Activities beyond 660 feet do not ever require a FWC Eagle Permit. The FWC will issue an eagle permit where the applicant provides minimization and/or conservation measures that will advance the goal and objectives of this management plan. [Since the clearing may be considered to be a "permanent" disturbance under these FWC guidelines, an eagle permit should be applied for.]

The FWC has the constitutional authority and duty in Florida to manage wildlife in the state. The role of local government and other agencies in the regulation and management of wildlife must be well-defined. Local governments are statutorily required to include a conservation element in their comprehensive plans for the conservation, use, and protection of natural resources, including fisheries and wildlife, pursuant to Chapter 163, F.S. Coordination between the FWC and local governments in implementing components of this plan is essential for the successful conservation and management of bald eagles in Florida. [The City comprehensive plan may require some revision]

Local governments and other agencies also play a substantial role in bald eagle conservation and management by providing protected and managed areas for eagles. Many local governments have created habitat-acquisition and management programs, which can provide important assistance in achieving the goal and objectives of this management plan. The FWC will coordinate with local governments and other agencies to help ensure that local land-acquisition programs and their implementing ordinances and policies are: (1) consistent with the goal and objectives of this management plan; and (2) focus on acquisition priorities for bald eagles and other important wildlife species. [Although the property is City-owned, consideration may be given to changes in zoning, deeds and ordinances to advance the FWC eagle management objectives.]

The delisting process will place responsibility on local governments to remain involved with regulations and guidelines that protect bald eagles and their habitats under the guidance of this management plan. This responsibility will create a closer working relationship between FWC and local governments. [As owner of the land the city has the advantage of direct control and enforcement of protective measures.]


Status Report, as of November 2013

by Ken Schneider
As a member of the Mayor's ad hoc Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committe, I helped draft an  Eagle Ordinance Agenda Item that was last revised on July 20, 2009. City officials from planning and public works participated with representatives of conservation associations and private citizen eagle-watch volunteers in working on the draft ordinance.

Briefing paper: The Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee

Submission of the Ordinance was to take place following revision of the City planning and land use documents. See the Draft Ordinance:

http://www.rosyfinch.com/ModelEagleOrdinanceAgendaItemREVISED20JUL09.pdf

The plan was revised to include provisions for an Ordinance.The entire City had been declared a Bird Sanctuary back in 1987, so the formal creation of an eagle sanctuary was admittedly a bit redundant. See:

http://www.rosyfinch.com/PPOrdinance1987-852.pdf

The City has no immediate plans to dispose of the land, but the eagle protection laws and FWC guidelines do require protection of the immediate nest area as long as the eagles nested there and for about 3 more years in the event they abandon it. The City erected signs and a fence to discourage any disturbance of the nest. There has been excellent coordination with utilities to avoid major work in easements in front of the nest.

The City Commission passed a revised "Conservation Element"

 http://www.rosyfinch.com/PPconservationelementtransmittal.pdf

http://www.rosyfinch.com/BaldEagleNest2.html#PPCommissionInitiates

The Conservation Element includes [my emphasis]:

Proposed Policies 1.4 and 4.27 have been added pursuant to House Bill 697 and are
consistent with the Broward County Conservation Element's adopted policies. In addition,
the City is proposing to modify Objective IV and add policies 4.24 through 4.26 providing
for the preservation and protection of the city's Bald Eagle active Bald Eagle nest. Tables
CE-1 and 2 have also been updated.

Proposed Policies 4.24 through 4.26 have been added to protect and preserve the nest as well as a provide the
foundation for the adoption of an eagle sanctuary protection ordinance

Conserve, protect, maintain or improve native vegetative communities, wildlife
habitats, wetlands, Bald Eagle nesting sites, and marine habitats through 2015 in
accordance with Broward County and City of Pembroke Pines standards.

Policy 4.24 - The City shall protect and preserve Bald Eagle nesting sites and
promote educational programs for the residents by establishing a Pembroke Pines
Bald Eagle Sanctuary Protection ordinance to be adopted no later than September
2011.

Policy 4.25 - Identify, prioritize, and recommend alternative actions to control public
access and coordinate with federal, state, regional, county and local agencies to
explore safe parking options and viewing areas during nesting season.

Policy 4.26 - Continue to coordinate with the Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee
in the development of plans and in the identification of funding sources for
sanctuary activities including the installation of a web cam, public education
programs, signage, and research.

Policy 4.27 - The City's Comprehensive Plan map series will be updated for Energy
Conservation during the next amendment cycle following Broward County's update
and adoption process.

The City had no immediate plans to dispose of the land, but the eagle protection laws and FWC guidelines do require protection of the immediate nest area as long as the eagles nest there and for about 3 years after they abandon it. The City erected signs and a fence to discourage any disturbance of the nest. Nothing prevents the City from selling the land, provided that the new owner abides by the Bald Eagle protection laws and guidelines.

While the City was supportive of a nest camera, no funding source was ever obtained. There were no safe and feasible options for a parking area or a viewing platform near the nest, so these plans were necessarily abandoned. Parking restrictions were instituted to reduce danger to spectators and motorists. The formal education program was abandoned, though SFWMD plans to create the C-9 impoundment just west of the nest. Since the high levees will provide a good view of the nest, SFWMD may be persuaded to include eagle nest watching as a recreational use.

The Mayor planned to declare the sanctuary but the ceremony did not take place. To my knowledge the Bald Eagle Protection Ordinance was never advanced.

The Steering Committe stopped meeting after presenting the City with the model ordinance and "Framework for Development of Long Term Policies" (above on this page), as it had served its essential purpose.

The nest is on an exotic Australian Pine tree that is invasive and  considered a "weed."
This selected excerpt from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bald Eagle Management Plan (Adopted April 9, 2008) is cause for concern:

"The FWC encourages land management practices that benefit bald eagles by decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, by maintaining healthy forests, and by providing suitable nest trees. These management practices include the use of prescribed fire, removal of exotic species, reduction of excess fuel loads, thinning of overstocked stands, replanting with native species (primarily pines), and uneven-aged timber management." [Note that this nest is one of the 26 Florida Bald Eagle nests that were placed in exotic Australian Pines (19 live and 7 dead trees).]

See more information on my Web Pages:

Nest Watch Main Page and FORUM
http://rosyfinch.com/BaldEagleNest.html

History of the Bald Eagle Nest
http://www.rosyfinch.com/BaldEagleNest2.html

Protecting the Bald Eagle Nesting Site -- This Includes "Framework for Development of Long Term Policies: A Pembroke Pines Bald Eagle Sanctuary?" (Presented to Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis on April 14, 2009).
http://rosyfinch.com/BaldEagleSitePreservation.html