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 World's Greatest Bald Eagle Gathering on the Chehalis Flats is Threatened.
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By: davidh (offline) on Monday, November 12 2012 @ 01:08 AM EST (Read 2916 times)  

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

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 southernmost 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.

Link to David's interview with CBC

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By: davidh (offline) on Monday, November 12 2012 @ 01:09 AM EST  

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

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?

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