The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation have enacted a plan to protect bald eagles that are nesting on Strawberry Island in the Niagara River. The plan will also help ensure that a multi-year effort to restore wetland habitat at the island will not be impacted by the effects of motorized boating activity.
Buoys have been placed across the north end of the cove to eliminate all motorized activity into the cove at Strawberry Island. The intent is to both protect the eagles from noise disturbance and the wetland plantings, that were recently installed as part of a habitat improvement project by the New York State Power Authority, from boat wakes and damage from propellers and anchors. The wetland restoration project, which began last year, will be ongoing through the end of 2017. Signage has also been installed on the island and in the cove that demarcates an area restricted to visitor access within 330 feet of the eagle nest during the nesting season that lasts from the January to the end of September in a typical year.
Law enforcement divisions from NYS Parks, DEC, and Erie County Sheriff's Office are cooperating in the effort to enforce the restricted area rules. While motorized boats are prohibited from entering the cove, nonmotorized vessels are not restricted outside the 330-foot buffer zone, which is marked with a separate buoy. In addition to the restricted area, boaters are reminded that federal navigation laws, such as maintaining a 5 mph speed limit while traveling within 100 feet of the shoreline, are important for the protection of the island and other natural resources.
The bald eagle, currently listed as a threatened species in New York, continues to make a recovery across the state, according the State Parks office, which said avoiding human disturbance at bald eagle nests is important to protecting the species. Some bald eagles are very sensitive to human activity and disturbance, especially at nest sites. Motor traffic, approaching too close on foot, frequency of visits or nearby tree removal can result in nest failure, nest abandonment, or abandonment of the nesting territory altogether. Any repeated disturbance by humans is unlawful under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and under the Environmental Conservation Law of New York.
Violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as amended in 1972, increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction. Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. The fine doubles for an organization. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the Act. Violators may be subject to additional fines under New York State Environmental Conservation Law.
DEC recently announced a new, comprehensive conservation plan to manage New York's population of the bald eagle. The Conservation Plan for Bald Eagles in New York State describes the historic status, restoration efforts and current status of the bald eagle in the state and provides guidelines for future management actions. The final plan and additional information on bald eagles can be found on DEC's website, www.dec.ny.gov.