Tuesday, September 17, 2019

New Bald Eagle Film Calls Out U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service For Failing to Protect Birds

(Manassas, VA) - In a new documentary titled Who’s Protecting Our National Bird? a resilient pair of bald eagles tries to hold on to their habitat in Manassas, Virginia—located 32 miles from the nation’s capital—in the wake of increasing encroachment from developers. The only pair of eagles in the city limits had lived a somewhat peaceful existence at the edge of a historic Manassas Battlefield park before backhoes first arrived in 2015 to dig utility trenches just 300 feet away. Sixteen months later, developers ripped up the entire field directly in front of the nest to build two mixed-used warehouses. The eagles must now attempt to raise young while 18-wheelers zigzag around the back of the buildings just feet from the nest tree.

But Manassas residents are not alone in their quest to protect our nation’s bird. As the film reveals, concerned citizens across the country are attempting to mitigate these disturbances by challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not providing the birds with adequate protections and enforcing the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. From Colorado to Virginia to Florida, the battle plays out over and over again: developers come in, citizens protest with signs, city council meetings, and sometimes, lawsuits—but USFWS routinely favors on the side of the developers.

This all began back in 2007, when then Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne removed the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List during a ceremony on the National Mall. Since then, the once-required 660-foot and 330-foot buffer restrictions for building construction have been relegated to guidelines. Builders are still required to obtain an Eagle Take Permit if their work would breach those buffers and could possibly disturb the eagles, but in the case of the Manassas eagles, no such permit was issued during construction.

In the film, the Manassas eagles face another blow. Their main feeding habitat, a pond just half a mile away from the nest, soon becomes the target of another development—a $250 million retail and housing project known as The Gateway Project. Viewers will watch as both habitats wane away over three years, with shocked residents desperately trying to make a positive difference in the eagles’ lives.

Filmmaker Victor Rook, whose other nature film, Beyond the Garden Gate, aired on PBS and won two Telly awards, describes why he produced the film. “I had never seen a bald eagle in the wild until I was 51. That’s over half a century. Though eagles are making a comeback, they still face challenges with habitat loss. To see our Manassas City representatives stand by and allow this to happen in the name of ‘economic development’ didn’t sit right with me. I knew this had to be exposed and documented, especially when I found out this is happening all over our country.”

The film also touches on the threat of lead poisoning, when eagles die from consuming gut piles contaminated with lead bullet fragments left behind by hunters.

For more information on the documentary, visit the official website at http://baldeaglefilm.com.

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