Further Details on the Bald Eagles of the Chehalis - Harrison Confluence.

Monday, November 12 2012 @ 01:12 AM EST

Contributed by: davidh


The Chehalis - Harrison Confluence Flats   -- houses Canada's richest salmon river and  the world's largest gathering of bald eagles .. but ... some challenges. 


In 2012 large numbers of bald eagles started to arrive at the Chehalis Flats very early in November.  By the first week of November 736 eagles were counted on the Flats between the CAM Tower and the Chehalis River mouth to the north - a distance of about 500 meters.  Probably over 2000 were already in the Chehalis - Harrison flats  area and resting in the nearby trees.  Normally the big numbers of eagles don't arrive until late November and early December -- peaking by mid December. The eagles leave when the carcasses disappear, wash away or are eaten out, by the end of January or February.



     This 2012 season, with the Live Streaming CAMs functioning, it has been possible to readily see and record the impact of people accessing the Chehalis Flats by foot, kayak, canoe, Sea Doo or small boat -- sometimes with running dogs.  Until now I had not realized how impactful humans were to the area.  The presence of people on the Flats largely moves the eating and loafing eagles off the flats. The eagles need this site for eating, loafing and being eagles.  The swans, geese, ducks and shorebirds and gulls also need this area.  Obviously all depend on the salmonids.  To coin Tom Cadieux's  phrase, we must make sure we "don't love the area to death!"  Perhaps this is the time to  seek some 'seasonal' protection for the core Chehalis Flats area.  


The challenge is to strike the right balance in protecting this incredible ecological resource yet to be able to use this site in education to further that protection and the protection of other ecologically sensitive areas, and simultaneously define how competing interests can seasonally share the site with minimal ecological disturbance to the area and wildlife.

Bald Eagle Concerns:  

1.    The Chehalis - Harrison River Flats is the site of the largest annual gathering of eagles in North America.  (Hancock 2012)  As such this site deserves some specific attention to protect this very small and confined habitat.

2.    The huge concentration of bald eagles on the Flats is fulfilling two very important and essential eagle needs:  (i) food and (ii) loafing:  stress-free rest

3.    Added concern is now apparent from the upper British Columbia and Alaskan coast losses of spawning salmon. The bald eagles, that have largely evolved on this coast in relationship with the salmon spawning cycle are dependent upon spawned out carcasses for nearly 7 months of the year.  While the salmon spawn starts earlier in Alaska to feed young and adult eagles following the late summer fledge in July and August, the annual onset of winter slowly freezes up the northern rivers driving the eagles southward to warmer unfrozen rivers.  The Chehalis - Harrison complex is the richest salmon river on the coast and of course is unfrozen offering the last great eagle dining buffet.  The record of 10,000 eagles in this area at one time attests to the importance of the Chehalis complex.  No other part of North America is more important to so many eagles.

In short, the greatest concentration of eagles known to the world in such a geographically small confined area  (the flats do not constitute more than about 4 square kilometers - not including the surrounding hills) deserves a place where eagles are not disturbed.  There are both deeper water channels along the Harrison River and shoreline observation places along both sides of the River where people and eagles meet on the eagles' terms. This simply means that eagles can and do regularly access the highly populated river edges in the big trees that offer them security and offer the public incredible views of these eagles that progressively get tamer.  What is necessary for the eagles is to set aside a reserve within the Flats for eagles only.

What I think is needed:  I propose the protection, by exclusion of humans from the Chehalis Flats for the period between October thru February each year.  I would make this zone some 100 feet west of the Harrison River bank on the east and the shoreline west of small creek running down the west side of the Flats bordering the Eagle Point Community Park and the adjacent subdivisions and commercial developments. This would not interfere with shoreline fisherman or hikers on either side of the valley.  A local committee could work this out.

Chehalis Tower and Live CAMs:  While this tower needs to be accessed every month or two, I would suggest that this small intrusion into the flats, be done mid-day to minimize feeding disturbance, and that this would yield more value in education and security monitoring of the site than negativity.

Suggested Community Groups to be involved:

Local community:     Harrison Mills?   Kilby?
                                    Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival
                                    Hancock Wildlife Foundation
                                    Sts'ailes First Nations
                                    Eagle Point Subdivision
                                    River's Reach Subdivision
                                    Tapadera Estates
                                    Ducks Unlimited
                                    Nature Trust
                                    Federation of BC Naturalists
                                    Stream Keepers
Provincial:                    MOE? 


Federal:                       DFO? 

David Hancock
Eagle biologist and director of:
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival
Hancock Wildlife Foundation


Hancock Wildlife Foundation