City Takes Action to Ward Off Eagle Attacks
Wednesday, January 30 2013
Eagle attacks are a relatively common occurrence in Unalaska in springtime, but this year, residents will have less to fear.
Last week, a city contractor dismantled two bald eagle nests, including one that was the source of multiple attacks in recent years.
KUCB's Stephanie Joyce reports.
Iliuliuk Clinic director Eileen Conlin Scott says injuries from eagle incidents are both medical and psychological.
“Over the years they've attacked several people where they've had to get stitches and things like that. Nothing serious where they have to be medevaced, but still it’s very frightening for somebody to be attacked from the back and not know what hit them.”
One of the nests that has sent the most people to the clinic over the the years is, ironically, on a cliff right in front of the building. It was the first of two nests that were removed last week. Scott watched the process out her window.
“The last day they were there -- there was an eagle sitting five feet from them! Oh my god! I would have had armor-knight gear on me and everything. They just had a hard hat!"
The intrepid eagle vanquisher’s name is Mikel Saunders. He’s not an eagle nest removal specialist, or even a wildlife expert. Normally he does blasting work for the company that’s clearing the site for Unalaska’s new wastewater treatment plant, but for the past week, he’s been applying those skills to demolishing eagle nests - starting with the clinic one.
“All of the nesting debris -- all of that went down over the edge of the cliff," Saunders says. "And then we actually pried the rock outcropping right off. So it’s no longer a ledge, it’s a lot steeper. And then we brought wire in and actually meshed the area where the outcropping used to be so that nothing could land.”
The whole process took just a few days, in contrast to the many months of permitting leading up to it. Chris Hoffman is a consultant who helped the city obtain the permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The clinic one was free because the nest was deemed a hazard to public safety, but the other nest, which is in the way of a proposed pedestrian path, cost the city $15,000. But according to Hoffman, it’s fortunate there’s even a legal way to get rid of the nests.
“Because up until a few years [ago] it just wasn’t possible to remove them, really under any circumstances," he says.
The government might have started giving permits to remove nests, but those don’t come with instructions on how to actually do it. Which is why, back out in the field, at the second nesting site, Saunders is holding an armful of chicken wire.
“Right now we’re building a cone, basically a cone of wire, to keep the eagles from landing on this outcropping right here.”
The outcropping is a just little sliver of rock, poking out over Airport Beach Road. Its former inhabitant is sitting just a few feet away.
“Saunders: He’s kind of keeping an eye on us.
SJ: And you said he’s been hanging out all day?
Saunders: Oh yeah, he’s pretty interested.
SJ: Has he been giving you any trouble?
Saunders: No, no, not at all, but definitely curious.”
The plan, Saunders explains, is to position the wire cone over the outcropping, and then drive anchors down into the bedrock so that it doesn’t blow away.
“SJ: Who came up with the design for this? Who decided to do it this way?
“Saunders: This has definitely been like a design-build project -- there were no real specs or anything. We did get some advice from the consultant that was working for the city. There wasn’t really a defined scope of work, but we’ll know here in about a month whether it works or not.”
It’s a considerable gamble. The city paid Advanced Blasting - the company Saunders works for - nearly $15,000 for the nine days of work he and another technician put in on the two nest sites. With the cost of the permit and the consultant added in, the two nests cost Unalaska around $35,000.
“It’s added up," Public Works Director Nancy Peterson says. "We thought with each step that it was going to be a lot simpler. But it isn’t, and you know, stuff never happens cheaply, unfortunately.”
Peterson says that’s part of the reason the city has no plans to touch two other eagle attack hot spots -- the post office and Captain’s Bay Road. So while the clinic might not see any more attacks on its own turf, it will probably still see an eagle patient or two.