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August 29, 2016
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife pays a visit; further discussion of eagles and fireworks

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.

The agency learned about the nest on June 12, and Bak expressed surprise that a different location could not be found. Nystrom said, going forward, USFW would need about 60 to 90 days to sign off on a new location for the fireworks.

Businessman Rick Lander, along with several others, said it might not be such an easy task to find a new location for the fireworks because there are now quite a few eagle nests along the river. Nystrom said if the town and the organization sponsoring the fireworks makes a good faith effort to work with the USFW, and something unexpected happens, such as an unknown nest is suddenly discovered near the display, and an eagle is inadvertently disturbed, injured or killed, there would be no fine.

There was quite a bit of discussion about whether any eagles were ever actually injured by the displays. Town clerk Kathy Michell, who is also a wildlife biologist and rehabilitator, recounted the story of an eagle named D34, who was blown out of the nest in June 2008. The bird was not injured, so a small VHF transmitter backpack was attached to her so her movements could be followed and she was replaced in the nest.

After the fireworks on July 5, D34 was found on the ground with a serious injury, and she would have died without assistance from rehabilitators. Michell said the injury was caused by “probably crashing very hard, like flying straight into a tree.” D34 eventually recovered.

Michell said at the town meeting on May 11, 2009, there was discussion regarding the proximity of the fireworks to the nest, but it was determined that the display could not be moved to the previous location because the field had already been rented. Michell said the board informed a member of the Narrowsburg Fire Department that the fireworks should be moved in the future.

Upon the suggestion of Ritter and with the board’s consensus, a firework-event committee will be formed with members of the town board, Narrowsburg Fire Department, Lava Fire Department and the Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce. Michell offered to assist with researching the proximity of eagles nests to any suggested site. Ritter will send a letter of invitation to the involved organizations