Bald Eagles at Green Lake and trees (long, some off topic)

Martin J. Muller martinmuller at
Tue Feb 23 12:26:16 PST 1999


The Bald Eagles at Green Lake are building their nest on the southwestern
shore (across the street). They collect sticks in Woodland Park Zoo (to the
west across Aurora Avenue), in Lower Woodland Park in the immediate vicinity
of the nest, and they fly the kilometer across the lake to collect sticks
from cottonwoods, including the ones that are being cut down.

There is no shortage of building material in the area even with the
cottonwoods across the lake gone.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Seattle Parks Department and the
city's urban forester (in charge of tree cutting activities at Green Lake
Park and Woodland Park) are aware of the situation. As a matter of fact the
cutting of the cottonwoods across the lake was postponed a month in order to
give the eagles more time to collect material from the trees. I'm glad to
read the eagles also took the opportunity to pick up branches from the

No Federal or State laws are being broken here (except perhaps if we leave
sticks lying on the ground on purpose hoping to lure the eagles in; anything
that interferes with their normal behavior, even when it is done with the
best of intentions, is illegal). Personally I'm curious as to where these
eagles will find the long grasses they typically use to line the stick nest
with. Will they swoop down into the Savannah exhibit in the Zoo or make the
mistake to swoop down in the lion exhibit? I'm not sure we have tall grasses
available in Lower Woodland Park, for sure not in Green Lake Park...

In the near future some trees closer to the nest will also be cut, but it
concerns black walnut trees lining the street between Lower Woodland Park
and Green Lake. Although it is within 150 m of the nest, there is no concern
the birds will be disturbed, three weeks ago one of the walnuts trees was
cut down (when the "nest" was no more than some sticks dangling vertically
in the tree) with both eagles perched across the street totally unconcerned.
I spoke with Steve Negri of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife
(eagles are his "responsibility" in Region 4, including Seattle). They are
wrestling with the delisting issue, trying to draw up some guidelines local
governments can implement. These rules will likely not protect every
individual eagle territory, but should safeguard a healthy eagle population
(monitoring the population to avoid future listing will be part of this

I have been watching Bald Eagles in the Seattle area for the past 12 years
and I am very concerned about their well-being. The Green Lake birds are
within walking distance of where I live and believe you me, I check on the
situation regularly and with every new development I have notified the
appropriate authorities and consulted with them (especially Parks Department
and urban forester Paul West) about planned tree cutting activities and
possible impact on the eagles.

The guiding principle with these urban eagles is that any activity that took
place while the birds chose their territory and set up their household can

As for the cottonwoods and why they are being cut down, these trees were
planted in the late 1920s/early 30s. Cottonwoods are fast-growing, and
produce brittle wood. These trees are at the end of their life-span. They
are starting to drop limbs (some as much as several hundred pounds in
weight) at unpredictable times, under windy, rainy or wind-less, sunny
conditions. One cannot predict which tree is going to drop what and when.
Given that these trees are in the most popular park in the area it is just
an accident waiting to happen. The trees will all be removed (ouch, I agree,
painful), the site prepared and new trees planted. Bottom line is though,
would we rather spend money on maintenance and tree plantings or pay
millions to relatives of someone killed by a falling tree (branch)? These
trees were identified as a hazard and removal was recommended in the 1995
Green Lake
Park Vegetation Management Guidelines (drawn up by experts in the field).
Leaving them up is, unfortunately, a liability issue. A few experiments with
leaving snags up (planting native understory layers, leaving dead wood on
the ground) are underway on the other side of the lake. This is a new
experience for Seattle Parks Department. Cooperation between Green Lake Park
Alliance, Parks Department and especially the urban forester (who likes
trees probably more than your average citizen, but has job to do) is great.
Unfortunately such a "solution" is not possible for the Gaines Point

One of the Green Lake Park Alliance (volunteer, non-profit, for support of
this park) goals is to plant trees at regular intervals, not once every
thirty of forty years after major losses and federal funds have been made
available. To that effect we have set up a designated Green Lake Tree Fund
(to receive a brochure call 206-689-6266). By continuously planting trees we
will avoid future traumatic events like the loss of a whole grove of
same-age trees. We are looking ahead and try to learn from past mistakes.

Hope this addresses all concerns about the eagles at Green Lake and their
safety. However, if you do see someone doing something illegal to the eagles
or their nest tree, don't hesitate to take action. If worse comes to worse
you can always call 9-1-1 for a quick response (has worked for me in the

Martin Muller, Seattle
MartinMuller at

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