Eagles are priority when it comes to new house plans in Rivers End

By Lynn R. Parks

Construction of a new home in the River's End development near Seaford will be allowed, despite a pair of bald eagles that are nesting nearby. Lisa and Bill Karlson, who live in Clarksburg, Md., and who bought two lots in the community last summer, have been given preliminary permission by an agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start clearing trees after June 15.

Cutting down trees and exterior work on the house will have to be completed by Dec. 15.

"We are extremely happy with the outcome," said Lisa Karlson. She and her husband intend to leave as many trees on their lot as they can "to make it as peaceful for the eagle as possible," she added.

The dead pine tree in which the nest is located will not be cut down. It is not on the Karlsons' land; while a precise survey hasn't been done, Lisa Karlson estimates that it is about 100 feet from their property line.

The tree appears to be in an area that is designated on the River's End plot map as community open space, said Sue Bramhall, a real estate agent with Callaway, Farnell and Moore. Bramhall, whose River's End home has a good view of the eagle's nest, handled the sale of the two lots to the Karlsons from Snubby and Janie Anderson.

The Karlsons and Fish and Wildlife Service agent Craig Koppie met at the site of the Karlsons' River's End lots on Saturday. "He was very nice and very professional, putting the interests of the eagle first," Lisa Karlson said. "That's how it should be; we want to make sure that we do everything right."

The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States. Once plentiful throughout the continent, it was declared an endangered species in 1967 and restrictions were put in place to protect it. In 1972, the government banned the use of DDT, a pesticide that scientists say interfered with the bird's calcium metabolism and that made eagles either sterile or unable to lay healthy eggs.

Since then, the bald eagle population has rebounded. Nearly half of the 48 contiguous states have at least 100 breeding pairs. In Delaware, state biologists monitored 75 active bald eagle territories last year, up from 68 in 2011.

Breeding pairs produced 105 chicks in 2012.

This year's state count hasn't been done yet, said Anthony Gonzon with the Delaware Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. But he expects that the census will find 80 eagle territories.

The federal government reclassified the bald eagle in 1995 from endangered to threatened. In 2007, the bird was completely removed from the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a worldwide inventory of the conservation status of species, says that the bald eagle is of "least concern," the organization's category of lowest risk.

The bald eagle is still protected, though, under state law and under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, enacted in 1940, and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, enacted in 1918 and expanded in 1972 to cover bald eagles. Both federal acts prohibit possessing and selling birds, their nests and their eggs. The Eagle Protection Act further prohibits "taking" a bald eagle; "take" is defined as "pursue, shoot, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap collect, molest or disturb."

It is that "disturb" part under which the Karlsons are being restricted in their building activity. According to the act, disturb means to bother a bald eagle "in a way that is likely to cause injury; a decrease in itsÉbreeding, feeding or sheltering behavior; or nest abandonment."

This is the second time that the Karlsons have run into environmental protection laws when trying to build a house in River's End. They originally bought a lot that borders the Nanticoke River. But setback requirements and wetlands on the lot meant that there wasn't enough room for the 2,900-square foot home that they planned. The lot on which they now plan to build is contiguous to that first lot, which they will keep in its current state, Lisa said.

She said that she and her husband are extremely happy to know that they will have a home in the Seaford-area development. "We really want to live in this neighborhood," she said.

"Nothing would please me more than to have an eagle's nest next to my house," added Bill.

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