A dying pine tree containing a bald eagles’ nest on Ridgeway Highway in Potter Valley may have reached the end of its one-year reprieve. In January, when PG&E tried to remove it, citing safety concerns about its proximity to a powerline, the property owner refused to grant access to tree-cutting crews. Neighbors blocked the road, inspired by the sight of an early-nesting bald eagle, and the company backed down.
PG&E biologists documented two nestlings in that nest in the spring of this year. Joseph Seidell, a resident on the property and key organizer of the efforts to save the nest, says at least one of those birds made it out of the tree.
“They had a beautiful eagle that we watched grow up, and they were feeding it, and the eagle had a whole transition out of the nest into a nearby tree, and mom helped it back into the nest one day, and it got really big,” he recounted. “Without our efforts, I don’t think that eagle would have been born. Maybe it would have gone to the other nest, but it seems like we did something good.”
Seidell attended a meeting this week with the US Fish and Wildlife Service about its intention to grant PG&E a permit to remove the tree sometime in the first two weeks of January, before nesting season officially begins. Heather Beeler, the eagle permit coordinator for the agency’s migratory bird program, explained why she thinks removal is the soundest option.
“This pair has been monitored for a number of years by PG&E,” she said. “We do know they’ve maintained an alternate nest site, .8 miles away (which) was utilized successfully in 2016, and it’s still in the tree and still maintained. So this pair would have time, as long as this nest is removed from the hazard tree prior to the beginning of the breeding season…eagles will be inconvenienced, and they might have to build a new nest, move into a new home, and they won’t be as close to some of you, potentially. Or they might. They might choose a tree, three trees down. We can’t predict that.”
One experienced arborist asked if Fish and Wildlife would grant him and his colleagues a permit to move the Ridgeway nest to a more suitable tree at their own expense, but Beeler said that’s not always the best option for bald eagles.
“Removing the nest and putting it somewhere else isn’t biologically necessary for this pair,” she said. “In our experience, when projects have gone above and beyond to create artificial nests or move nests onto platforms for eagles, they very often don’t utilize those nests. Actually, we consider it beneficial to move the eagles away from the electrocution line, or encourage them to nest further away from the electric lines. But to remove the nest and to create another platform or a new nest site for them makes us feel good, but biologically isn’t very likely to be helpful to those eagles.”
Seidell signed a contract that puts him in a bind if he participates in another stand-off with PG&E over the tree containing the nest. The company cut electrical power to the property on August 15, for the stated purpose of avoiding a wildfire. Since then, PG&E has been providing generator power at no extra cost. But according to a letter Seidell shared with us, that courtesy is contingent on him allowing PG&E to cut down the tree when it returns with a permit. The agreement obligates Seidell to “provide safe access to PG&E and its crew…not allow others to block or make the area unsafe;” to keep himself “and others out of the area two times the distance of the work zone;” and to “support law enforcement’s removal of protestors from the Property.”
The letter ends with a threat of litigation, including recovery of PG&E’s costs, if he doesn’t comply.
One protester, who goes by the name of Monkey, was present at the attempt to remove the nest in January. He spoke with us after this week’s meeting with Fish and Wildlife. He was skeptical about PG&E’s assertion that it could assign responsibility for other people’s actions to Seidell.
“He can’t stop people from blockading the road, like was done last year,” Monkey said. “They’re on public property…trying to make him responsible for that, I don’t understand.”
With rising fuel prices and kids to raise, though, Seidell says he’ll have to step aside if there’s another effort to keep the tree in place. His friend pointed out that, without the nesting tree, crews won’t be hindered by rules that slow down work in the vicinity during nesting season.
“The whole thing boils down to where, they wanted that tree down, so they can continue raping the forest during the winter,” Monkey opined.
Seidell wishes Fish and Wildlife would allow nature to take its course and allow the tree to fall when it’s ready. But he sounded resigned to the outcome after the meeting.
“I kept asking my questions, and they kept answering them with valid points,” he reflected. “I don’t think it led me to believe they should take the nest out, but they definitely were valid points. That being said, I have to understand that the United States federal government got involved, they took them into their own hands, they created this public forum for us, they won’t let them touch it without one of their permits, and they believe that this permit is valid,a nd they’ve got a lot more experience at these things than me. I’m not giving up, but I can’t burden the expense of PG&E’s wrath.”
The public comment period on the permit is open until December 27th. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com