Monday, December 26, 2016

City of Manassas Deals Second Blow to Bald Eagles

It was something most of us only found out about this summer while we witnessed the eagles' nesting grounds decimated by builders of two large warehouses: the City of Manassas, Virginia, also had plans to tear up the 40 acres of land surrounding the feeding pond down the street. This is where the bald eagles regularly fish for themselves and their young. It is also home to herons, geese, ducks, hawks, ospreys, and a large variety of plant, animal, and insect life. It will be replaced by office buildings, retail shops, residential units and, unless they pull out of the deal and find a better spot that won't upset their current patrons, Heritage Brewing.
One of the main perching trees for the bald eagles has been removed.

It had been in the plans for decades to develop the strip of land that leads from the City's core to the Manassas airport. According to Councilman Ian Lovejoy, who voted against the development along with Councilman Marc Aveni, there is a competition between surrounding Prince William County and the City to be the most "economically developed." A developer by the name of Lerner Enterprises backed out of the deal years ago because of the recession. Buchanan Partners LLC stepped in in 2015 and struck a deal with the City.

On Dec. 13, 2016, the City held a groundbreaking ceremony, and now much of the damage has been done. Both sides of Gateway Blvd. have been plowed down. One of the eagles' favorite perching trees has been removed, and grading on one side of Gateway Blvd. has already begun. This is where over 270 high-density, high-priced residential units will be built. On the opposite side, mere feet from the pond, is where the rest of the development will take place.

A permit for Discharges of Stormwater from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) is posted at the site location, however, we are unaware and do not believe the City or the developer hired a biologist to determine the effect the development will have on the wildlife.

Development will clear up to the pond's edge. 
The Cannon Branch pond, though man made, has been erroneously referred to as a "retention" pond, which gives the impression that it does not flow elsewhere. On the contrary, the pond flows under the street into a smaller pond, then over a retaining wall, and turns into the Cannon Branch River. There is even an inlet to the pond next to the cemetery by the DMV. The pond is also loaded with fish, which isn't something that just happens when you dig a big hole.

In fact, the Cannon Branch pond has transformed into an entire ecosystem over the years. Insects feed on the bountiful plant life. Fish eat the insects and insect larvae. And the eagles feed and rely upon the fish. Now that most of that plant life is gone, there will be little for insects to pollinate. Without insects you have no fish. And with no fish, no bald eagles. The entire ecosystem begins to collapse.

Tree removal and grading of land for residential units.
A number of citizens have expressed their dissatisfaction with the excessive development within the city. They do not see this as "progress." They see more traffic, more congestion, and with more homes comes more children. And more children means overcrowded schools. With so many vacant office buildings, retail stores, and residential units within the city already, you have to wonder what kind of mentality would make these kinds of decisions.

Greed. As some have put it, grass doesn't pay taxes. Even if the development fails, the City will still get their money--upwards of $20 million in land sale proceeds and $3 million in taxes.

To help protect these eagles and others around the country facing similar circumstances, please go to and donate to the important documentary, "Who's Protecting Our National Bird?"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bald Eagles Hit The Media Trail

It was on February 22, 2015, when I noticed a backhoe sitting in front of a bald eagles' nest near the Manassas, Virginia airport, that I wrote the following blog post. It went viral overnight.

Destruction of Bald Eagle Habitat in Manassas, Virginia

Five papers covered the story, including the Washington Post. None did any investigative reporting and concluded with statements from officials that everything was "fine." Prince William Times, at least, under the smart editorial leadership of Tara Donaldson, suggested that it was a bad idea to interfere with something so dear to the public in her article "Save the eagles--or yourselves."

A year and a half later, a developer demolished the eagles' habitat within four feet of the base of the tree to erect two 40,000 sq. foot warehouses. They did so with no permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and no protections for the eagles--not even a sign at the base of the nesting tree to warn contractors and workers to not get too close. The eagles fled the nest during the work days and mostly only returned in the evening when work had subsided. It had clearly altered their sheltering and nesting habits from prior years.

Concerned citizens, including myself, documented by photo and video each and every move made by the City, the developer and its contractors, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  Even with repeated requests from residents via emails, phone calls, and direct messaging, the City constantly relented on putting any protections in place. It's been five months since ground was broken and there are still no signs up on the site to protect the nest from those who might get too close. And though we kindly asked both the City and developer many times, there is still no shielding in place to ward off the intensely bright warehouse lights that illuminate the nest every night. The eagles just can't seem to get a rest.

All of us that were deeply involved with the plight of these eagles also did our own research. We reached out to MANY organizations for assistance, but ultimately it came down to suing U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The outcome of that lawsuit is yet to be determined, and we anxiously await the court's response to make sure these eagles are protected.

We also read many other stories from around the country where more citizens are fighting to protect our National Bird. Like the horrified neighbors in Virginia Beach who witnessed a homeowner tear down a tree with an eagles' nest without contacting Fish and Wildlife first. And the plight of the eagles in Norfolk, Virginia, where Fish and Wildlife shot paintballs at a male eagle so he wouldn't build a nest near the Norfolk Airport, even though the nest was not on airport property. That also went to court.

It amazes me that after only 9 years since the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007, there are so many stories of bald eagles being disturbed to no end. When someone like me, a nature filmmaker and photographer, never saw a bald eagle in the wild until I was 50 years old, that should tell you that their comeback isn't over. Most bald eagles reside in Alaska.

It is my hope that this documentary will shed some light on these majestic birds and offer them better protections so that everyone will have the opportunity to view and enjoy them for decades and centuries to come. I hope you support our efforts.

Thank you,