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Port removes eagles' nest

PORT Metro Vancouver has removed an eagles' nest at the centre of controversy on East Esplanade. The port sent workers in to bring the nest down before 7 a.m. on Thursday.

PORT Metro Vancouver has removed an eagles' nest at the centre of controversy on East Esplanade.

The port sent workers in to bring the nest down before 7 a.m. on Thursday.

"The remainder of the de-limbing that had to take place took place this morning and that included the limbs that the nest was on," said Carrie Brown, PMV manager of environmental programs. "We're going to go back to remove the rest of the tree, (which) will require traffic management to be in place so we're planning to do that next week."

Despite the early morning start for chainsaws, Brown said the time was not chosen to avoid protesters who vowed to protect the tree and nest after blocking workers' first attempt at bringing it down last Monday.

"We wanted to get out there before traffic. We just wanted to get out there early and get it done," she said, adding she knew the move would be perceived as PMV "sneaking in."

The short saga has been a dark cloud with a rare silver lining for noted eagle biologist David Hancock, who has been called in to advise the port on the matter.

"I've spent a lifetime trying to speak on behalf of eagles and over the last many, many years, I've heard of many kinds of developments . . . that required an eagle's nest to be cut out and I was always there to protest," said Hancock. "No matter how hard we protested, all that ever happened was they got to cut down the eagles' nest."

While Hancock would rather no eagles' nest ever be disturbed, this case has been unique in that the province granted Port Metro Vancouver permission to cut the tree down on the condition that it put together a mitigation plan for the eagles' benefit, something Hancock has been pushing for for years.

"(Port Metro Vancouver) is very serious about doing this. Speaking on behalf of eagles, I'm actually quite pleased that, if the nest is going to go, this is the first time in the history of British Columbia that the eagle is going to get something back in return and that's good. That's why I'm involved in this."

The first project, a 75-foot (23-metre) pole topped with an aluminum and chain-link nest, is scheduled to be installed on the waterfront just east of SeaSpan Marine's yard on Friday, with Hancock overseeing the entire project. A second platform is planned for Maplewood Flats, just east of the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing in the coming weeks and Hancock is in the process of selecting locations farther west where selective tree pruning would encourage more eagles to come nest.

Fortunately, these eagles have shown they're not averse to using human-made objects as a base for a nest, having built another one on an old crane just south of the cottonwood tree, Hancock said, and he has high expectations for the new nest.

"The fact that this pair has attempted to do it two years in a row makes me quite confident . . . that in time they'll come to accept it," he said.

The trick is finding a place close to the eagles' food source, but not too close to another nesting pair.

"Eagles are very territorial. They're like bloody people. 'You get off my property!'" Hancock said with a laugh. "If they can, they nest right on the water's edge so they don't have to carry their dinner very far."

By his count, the pair of eagles that built the nest had been together for about five years, though they never had young, while the nest is about three years old. Residents have reported the raptors using the nest in recent days, but that's not quite the same as nesting, Hancock said.

"They haven't been successful in this territory yet in five years. So it's not as if this is a tried and true, successfully breeding pair," he said.

Eagles can build a nest and successfully breed as late as May, Hancock added.

The mitigation plan is cold comfort for the protesters who wanted to see the tree left undisturbed.

"For me, the value of this tree remains undiminished," said Randy Burke, adding that only time will tell if eagles take to the new nest. "We humans continue to think that we can manage nature. What is being made here is an assumption that this mitigation plan will be successful."

For Paul Berlinguette it means protesters will have to double their efforts. "It's got us even more vigilant than we were," he said. "No matter what, we're dedicated to protecting these trees. I can't believe they would do it this way. It means we'll have to reply accordingly."

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