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U.S. Fish and Wildlife pays a visit; further discussion of eagles and fireworks

By Fritz Mayer
July 18, 2012

Four staff members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) put in an appearance at the Tusten Town meeting on July 16, which, given that there are only six field agents in the entire state of New York, represents a significant dedication of resources to the matter.

The matter was eagles and fireworks. Sarah Nystrom, a bald and golden eagle coordinator for the FWS, explained that eagle nests are considered active from about January, when the adults start to prepare the nest, through August, when the chicks have fledged and left the area. She said even after the chicks have left the nest, they roost nearby for some weeks, and the nest is still considered active.

She and others from the FWS said the agency would be happy to work with the town to find a suitable location for a July 4th fireworks display next year, which was cancelled this year because of the proximity of the display to a nest on the Flats.

For the most part, the meeting was civil, though there were a few heated moments. Bruce Gettel, the member of the Lava Fire Company who was to be in charge of the display this year, accused FWS special agent Jason Bak of threatening him and the fireworks vendor with a hefty fine if the fireworks went forward.

Bak responded that there was no threat, and said he had explained that if the fireworks went forward, and an eagle was disturbed, injured or killed, and if that could be linked to the fireworks, then a fine would be assessed. In recreating their communications at one point Bak said to Gettel, “On Thursday [June 28] you told me, ‘Well, have you been down here to see them lately, they tell me they’re [the eagles] not here anymore,’ and I said, ‘Well, if that’s the case I can come down,’ and you were like, ‘No, we just cancelled them,’ and that was it.”

William Anderson, FWS’s agent in charge, said that if the fireworks had gone forward, and even if there was a dead eagle on the ground, if the two things could not be linked, there would be no fine or prosecution. He said the two incidents that were alleged to have happened in the past would not be investigated, because too much time had elapsed since they had allegedly taken place.

Council member Tony Ritter asked if The River Reporter inquired about this with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in July 2011, why the agency did not know about this sooner. The response from three of the FWS staffers was that the agency often works with the DEC on matters relating to eagles, but they could not say why they had not been informed earlier about the situation by either the newspaper or the DEC.