BENTON - Increased human activity near a nest in Saline County is jeopardizing the safety of a pair of bald eagles and nestlings. Not only is the well-being of the eagles at risk, but the public’s safety is in jeopardy because motorists are parking along the narrow highway.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have instructed the public to stop parking along Arkansas Highway 229 in Saline County to view the eagle nest. The USFWS originally had a 330-foot no disturbance zone around the nest. Since the nesting bald eagles continue to exhibit signs of agitation and disturbance caused by human activity, USFWS officials have extended the buffer zone to 660 feet from the nest.
The roadside where the public is parking to see the eagles is almost 320 feet from the nest and well within the extended no-disturbance zone designated by federal bald eagle management guidelines.
To minimize disturbance to the nesting bald eagles, the USFWS and AGFC have requested that the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department post “No Parking” signs along Highway 229 to prevent motorists from stopping along the highway.
Bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which provides criminal penalties of up to a $100,000, imprisonment for one year or both for a first offense for persons who pursue, molest or disturb bald eagles. Disturbance is defined as agitating or bothering bald eagles to the degree that there is a decrease in productivity or nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding or sheltering behavior.
AGFC wildlife officers have observed the nesting pair of bald eagles flushing from the nest while giving distress cries in response to vehicles stopping along the highway. AHTD regulations prohibit parking along the highway and on the highway shoulder except in cases of emergency.
During the nestling period, increased human activity around the nest increases the likelihood of nest abandonment and vulnerability of nestlings to the weather. This could result in missed feedings that could affect the eagles’ survival or may prematurely flush nestlings from the nest, which could kill them. Human activity that causes any of these responses and leads to injury, a decrease in productivity or nest abandonment, could be considered disturbance under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Bald eagles are unlikely to be disturbed by routine use of roads, homes or other facilities where such use was present before a bald eagle pair nested.