World's Greatest Bald Eagle Gathering on the Chehalis Flats is Threatened.

Chehalis River + Eagle Point

We have stated for years that the winter gathering of bald eagles at Harrison Mills, the Chehalis Flats, is the world's best kept conservation secret.  Possibly the secret is out of the bag!  Perhaps we Canadians with our fellow US visitors are in danger of loving the eagles to death.

This coming weekend, November 17th - 18th, will be our 17th annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival and we have been striving to use these eagles to promote the wise use of these incredible Chehalis - Harrison waterways and their incredible wildlife.  This site is on the doorstep and vulnerable to the largest human population concentration in British Columbia -- Greater Vancouver metropolis.   Obviously our message is getting out -- but we (I) have only heard a few negatives.  Now with our Live Streaming Video Cams coming in from daylight to dark each day we are beginning to see what some observers have been warning about.  The Chehalis - Harrison flats, where the eagles feed and loaf, while surrounded by steep forests beyond the busy boat and fisherman traffic of the Harrison River running down the east side of the valley and the heavily human occupied subdivisions of the east side of the valley, seemed isolated and protected by the shallow waters of the large alluvial gravel outflow out on the flats itself.  But now with our cams recording what is taking place on the flats it is obvious that the eagles are suffering greatly from recreational human activities. 

The eagles who arrive on this greatest of feeding grounds in all of North America come from all over British Columbia and Alaska and elsewhere to utilize these spawned-out salmon carcasses.  The Chehalis Flats is the southern most great salmon buffet.  This is what is left after the northern BC and Alaska coastal salmon runs are eaten out or frozen out of reach.  When the northern salmon runs are over-harvested, as has been evident these past few years, the Chehalis - Harrison salmon runs are the last opportunity for secure food.  But that security is now being threatened by the eagles' popularity.  We are in danger of loving them to death.

Over the past three days of watching our cams viewing the Chehalis Flats eagles it is apparent that shortly after sunrise thru dusk, the Flats are subject to a constant stream of kayakers, canoeists, hikers, jet boaters, and even helicopters and Sea Doos.  The eagles are constantly being driven from these shallow feeding grounds by humans conveyed by every imaginable conveyance possible.  We have encouraged the public to want to be too close to our eagles and today's recreational technologies are destroying the very values we want to see -- and need to protect.

Humans are simply encroaching the central flats where the eagles need to feed and rest. There is no difficulty with people traversing the deeper channels of the Harrison River or its banks, or even walking the shoreline of the western side of the built up valley.  The eagles accept this or when flying to these sites can simply fly 100 yards further to where no people are.   What is needed is a respectful treatment of the central Chehalis Flats where the eagles need peace and quiet.  We need to come up with an immediate policy on not trespassing on these central flats.  Then perhaps, at least for the winter feeding months of October thru February, we could get the area a more formal status  -- perhaps as the Chehalis - Harrison Bald Eagle Preserve.  Many areas where eagles temporarily gather in the United States have been given some protection.  We need to do the same for the world's largest gathering place for bald eagles.

The existing live cams could act as both an educational tool as planned and act as a security tool to evaluate what is happening.

As soon as our Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival is over this fall we need to concentrate on getting some widespread awareness of the Chehalis eagle needs.  This coming week and month we need to prepare some information sheets and perhaps some volunteers to talk with boaters of various kinds at the nearby boat ramps to "please leave the feeding and resting eagles on the flats to their privacy".   Our Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival supporters and the Hancock Wildlife Foundation will be attempting to grapple with establishing some "eagle etiquette" immediately for the area.

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

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