Shannon Lankford, a resident in the Huffman area near Lake Houston, is concerned about a bald eagle nest in the area near her home. Eagles and their nests are protected by law and she has serious concerns that even though they are protected, they are under threat because land owners and developers are ignoring the laws protecting them as they clear and develop their lands.
“I live right on the lake here in Huffman … and have an active eagle nest within walking distance of my home. The pair isn’t the only active nest we have in the area and I am just wanting to get the news out that they are here and that they deserve to be protected,” she said.
Lankford said people are clearing their land in several areas and one of them is within 100 yards of where the nest is located. Just down the street, people have been setting fires to burn out the brush as they clear their land, further irritating the wildlife in the area. She fears this could cause the eagles to abandon their nests and not reproduce this year.
Lankford has contacted the authorities to call attention to the problem.
“I contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Center on Lee Road and spoke with Jim Stinebaugh. Then I messaged him to get an update and he is trying to get in contact with the contractors that are clearing the land and said that all he can do is make them aware that there are eagles’ nests and that they are not allowed to cut down the tree with the nest.”
Stinebaugh forwarded the information to Kirsten McDonald, an eagle biologist in the Houston area. McDonald called Lankford to get more information and informed her that the contractors doing the clearing do not have the proper permits required to excavate the land near these protected birds. She said that she is doing what she can but law enforcement usually doesn’t get involved until something actually happens to the eagle or the nest. Lankford said she did not want something have to happen in order for them to be protected. She wanted them protected before they were threatened.
Lankford then contacted a person at the nearby Texas Adaptive Aquatics facility.
“I spoke with Rodney at Texas Adaptive Aquatics which is down the street from me and he informed me that he sees the eagles regularly and that there is a second nest in the wooded area towards the train bridge on Lake Houston, about 1 mile south of where the nest by my house is located. I am also aware of another active nest in Kingwood near the lake and river,” Lankford said.
While the bald eagle population is no longer on official endangered lists, many people may be unintentionally or intentionally ignoring the laws that still protect them.
The story of the bald eagles’ near extinction and amazing recovery is long and complicated. The timeline below provides summary about the decimation and recovery of one our most revered national symbols.
- In 1782, the Second Continental Congress adopted the bald eagle as the symbol of the United States.
- In 1921, the magazine, "Ecology," warned of possible extinction of bald eagles due to hunting and habitat destruction.
- In 1939, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was first discovered to have insect-prevention qualities and it began to be widely used in the United States, first in WWII by the U.S. Army to control malaria and typhus among troops and civilians. In 1945, it was made available as an agricultural and household pesticide. Unrecognized at that time was that wide use would begin to devastate the populations of many bird species, including bald eagles.
- In 1940, Congress enacted legislation known as the Bald Eagle Protection Act. This act prohibited selling, killing or possessing the species. However the danger from DDT was not yet known or addressed.
- By 1950, the bald eagle was beginning to recover from human persecution but not from the growing use of DDT. Its deadly effects were still not yet understood while its agricultural usage continued to increase.
- In 1962, Congress amended the protection act, extending the ban to golden eagles and the law became the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BEPA). This law protects the bird's feathers, eggshells and body parts. In addition, it protects their nesting trees. DDT was still not addressed although dangers from DDT were becoming evident to researchers.
- By 1963, due to DDT poisoning, shooting and loss of habitat, bald eagles were in danger of extinction. Within the contiguous 48 states there were only 487 known nesting pairs of bald eagles. Because of general concern over DDT, its use was going down but it was not yet banned and remained available for general agricultural use.
- In1972, the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act was amended again with several different aspects, such as increasing the civil penalties for violating provisions to a maximum fine of $5,000 and less than one year of imprisonment for first conviction. If a second conviction occurs, a maximum fine of $10,000 and less than two years of imprisonment will take place. Finally in 1973 DDT was banned for general use in the United States which resulted in the beginning of the robust recovery of eagles.
- In 1995, the bald eagle's status was reduced from “Endangered” to “Threatened” on the federal government’s Endangered Species List.
- In 2007, the FWS and the U.S. removed the bald eagles from the Endangered Species List.
As a result, bald eagles are increasingly seen in the Lake Houston area. Though no longer endangered, they are clearly protected. The law needs to be honored and enforced. Lankford, in her passion for bald eagles, perhaps explained why best.
“I am wanting to advocate for these amazing animals because they deserve it. My goal here is to cohabitate and not run them off from their home. These birds aren’t just birds, they are among the largest birds of prey and have an amazing story. They mate for life and use the same nest over and over. One of the oldest nests was 34 years old and they can weigh up to three tons depending on the location and how old it is. They are a story, a kind of history in my opinion. They migrate yearly and chose our area to have their young and make their home and to me that is special. The females are only fertile for three weeks out of the year, so that time they have here is sensitive and important. They are protected by the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and The Lacey Act,” she said.