City may change part of eagle's nest protection law

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly will consider changing an ordinance that restricts some development within 330 feet of a bald eagle's nest.

The consideration is coming after a 2007 decision to de-list the raptor from the endangered species list. According to documents from the city, it is following U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines that relax some protections once an animal has been cleared from the list.

"This revision acknowledges the change in status and our past practice of deferring to the federal agency responsible for the protection of bald eagles," the document states.

The issue went through the Planning Commission after the state requested a conditional use permit recently to straighten and widen a patch of Glacier Highway between mile 29.5 and 33.6. That patch of road could affect as many as seven eagle nests.

What is now being considered is giving clarity to variance allowances in the buffer zone of a nest. It will allow for "responsible development" around the areas.

"It may be appropriate to adopt regulations for development near eagle nests based on the level of tolerance of the subject eagles to human activity," the planning commission report states.

City code still emphasizes its land use code will protect existing nests from conflicting land uses, but the proposal crosses out city regulation in the distance rules on both public and private land and defers responsibility to the Fish and Wildlife Service via a "take" permit.

The raptors are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Act of 1940 and the Migratory Birds Treaty Act of 1918.

The Planning Commission states one reason it is looking to relax the ordinance around the nests is because the past rules from the FWS are too restrictive — and it's problematic because there aren’t enough official local experts to assist them as there once were.

"Without the ability to issue variances to provide relief (because we cannot get input from experts as we did in the past) the current code provision not allowing development near eagle nests is too restrictive," it states.

For a full agenda and related documents, visit bit.ly/zbibCO.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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