National symbol could leave the endangered list: But Tahoe is behind for bald eagle recovery |

National symbol could leave the endangered list: But Tahoe is behind for bald eagle recovery

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune file / Bald eagles are making a comeback, but Tahoe is still behind its target numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun steps to remove the bald eagle from the federal list of endangered species, a move some scientists at Tahoe are saying demonstrates the success of the Endangered Species Act.

Lake Tahoe is still below targets for the bird. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aims for four nesting pairs on Lake Tahoe. There are only one or two nesting pairs here each year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Six to seven bald eagles linger at Lake Tahoe each year during their winter migration south. It’s unclear how many bald eagles nested in Lake Tahoe historically, before white settlement.

One pair has nested at the mouth of Emerald Bay every other year, according to state parks biologist Ken Anderson. Other nests have been spotted at Marlette Lake on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, said biologist Shane Romsos with the Forest Service in Lake Tahoe.

“Ultimately it’s our goal to recover these species,” Romsos said. “If the data shows they can be delisted, it’s a sign of success.”

The Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973, has come under fire recently from several Republican lawmakers, who say restrictions place an undue burden on businesses.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency last fall cited Emerald Bay’s bald eagles as one justification for proposed resource protection zones, which would prohibit new buildings, roads, trails, piers or buoys on over half of Lake Tahoe’s shore area. The agency regulates development at Lake Tahoe.

As part of it’s charge, the TRPA must protect both sensitive species and recreation at Lake Tahoe.

“We sometimes butt heads when you have to consider both recreation and wildlife health,” said Eric Kelchlin, the TRPA’s wildlife biologist. “We are always trying to balance both.”

California State Parks and Recreation is against the resource protection zones, Anderson said. The zones would make it impossible to add more buoys in the bay. The park service wants more buoys to prevent overnight boat campers from anchoring on underwater archeological artifacts.

The eagles in Emerald Bay have proven to be well adjusted to boat traffic, which has not been restricted for several years, Anderson said. They have diverted a foot trail that passed under the nest.

Some birds could be more sensitive to human disturbance than others, Romsos and Anderson said.

Romsos studied the birds at Tahoe over the winter of 1997.

“They were selecting sites to perch, rest or forage in sites that were not overly affected by human activity,” he said.

It’s unclear what relationship American Indians at Tahoe had with bald eagles, although many modern tribes revere the birds and collect their feathers for sacred ceremonies.

Robert Orr and James Moffitt wrote about bald eagles nesting at Lake Tahoe in the late 1800’s in “Birds of the Lake Tahoe Region”:

“In 1877 a pair (of bald eagles) nested in a large pine in Homewood. Some of the local Indians removed the young from this nest by means of a 30-foot pole made of willows lashed together with a hook and noose on the end.”

No further explanation is provided and it wasn’t clear what the Indians did to the young birds.

Bald Eagle fast facts:

— One nesting pair per year in Lake Tahoe, on average

— They steal what other animals catch, called cleptoparasitism

— Reach sexual maturity in 4 to 5 years

— Start reproducing around 6 years old

— Live up to 36 years in captivity

— 40 percent of fledglings survive longer than a year

— Will hunt ducks and gulls, in addition to fish

— Listed as endangered in California, threatened in Nevada, species of concern for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

— When young, they are all brown, with no white markings and look similar to golden eagles until they are over two years old

Source: Shane Romsos, U.S. Forest Service biologist

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