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Eagles cost Unalaska an arm and a leg

Scott Woodham
Aaron Jansen illustration

TO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
SUBJECT: Like pigeons

Dear National Bird Protectors,

Usually when we hear about stories involving Alaska coastal towns, bald eagles and federal authorities, we expect the urge to remind people that eagles just aren't rare in Alaska and are downright numerous in some spots. Because of eagles' large populations in the state, laws intended to protect the nation's symbol elsewhere can seem, well, excessive when applied to Alaska. We imagine it can be hard for some bureaucrats to imagine massive, carnivorous, scavenging birds hanging around, as numerous as pigeons in Central Park or the National Mall.

Luckily that doesn't seem to be the case in Unalaska this week.

We've learned you granted permission to the City of Unalaska to remove two eagle aeries that are impinging on human activity in the Aleutian Islands community. The nests haven't been used for the past two breeding seasons, and the city would like them gone. One nest, near a clinic, is up for demolition because of the safety hazard it would likely pose if eagles moved in and had to start defending it from people going about their business. The other is slated for the wrecking ball because it is smack in the way of a planned bike trail.

And we do mean wrecking ball. We haven't seen these particular nests lately, but eagles can build arguably the largest nests in the bird world. Some aeries, if they've been active for many consecutive years, grow to as much as 10 feet across and weigh 2 tons.

Since we know removing an eagle aerie isn't any small job, we were ready to hear that Unalaska was about to incur some stiff expenses for getting rid of the two nests. And we were glad to hear that you waived the permit fee for the city to remove the nest near the clinic because it posed a safety hazard.

However, we grew very concerned when we learned how much the permit fee actually is -- and for that matter, that it would not be waived for the planned bike trail nest. We know the federal government has a reputation for overpaying for hammers and toilet seats, but really? Paying $15,000 for a permit to move an abandoned nest? If this keeps up, eagle-packed Unalaska will wind up in the poor house.

For that kind of money, we'd expect a bit more service, like maybe FWS officers actually dismantling or deterring occupancy of the nest themselves. As far as we know, it'll be up to Unalaska Public Works.

We're concerned about the fee, of course, but we're even more concerned that the city didn't just tell you both nests were a threat to human safety and have you waive the second fee on the same grounds as the first. It wouldn't be a lie exactly; it's plausible. Eagles are all over the place in the community, and none are tame.

Residents all know to keep an eye peeled for them, but it doesn't always work, especially during nesting and mating season, which is set to begin shortly.

In 2010 the eagle-attack problem was so bad that you had to send representatives to assess the situation and figure out what could be done within the law. Not much, it turned out until the eagles gave up their claims. So officials started advising locals to be aware, and even wear hard hats and “hold sticks above their heads.” If that warning hadn't been issued in Unalaska, we'd think it meant people should carry an umbrella. But almost no one there owns one, at least not one that hasn't been blown inside out at least twice. The reign of terror continued in 2011.

And there is reportedly still a potential eagle-ambush hotspot: The post office. The Concerned find it darkly hilarious that the problem at that location even started in the first place. Local children knew the site chosen for that post office would be terrorized by the eagles that nested every year above the site.

If by some miracle the eagles who’ve been menacing postal customers have abandoned that nesting site, the city will probably apply for a removal permit. When it does, we The Concerned hope you to just waive the permit fee. We're pretty sure the eagles wouldn't care, and circumstances on that island are unusual enough to justify it.

Look out behind you!

The Concerned

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