City out to protect bald eagles
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
by Jonathan Lipman
Chicago's first pair of bald eagles in a century could have a permanent home to roost under a plan given early approval Monday.
Ald. Anthony Beale wants the city to buy 26 acres along the Little Calumet River from Mittal Steel in Chicago's Riverdale community.
Two bald eagles, a mating pair, have been spotted there the past two winters and are expected to return next month to make a permanent nest, said Nelson Cheung of the city planning department.
"We've been keeping this quiet for a couple of years now because we didn't want the birds disturbed. They're pretty finicky," Beale said. "But when the landowner started talking about selling the property, we knew we had to move."
The city's housing committee, which handles all land purchases, approved acquisition authority Monday, and the full city council will likely approve it Wednesday. That gives city officials the right to begin negotiating a price and come back to aldermen for final approval.
Bald eagles are migratory birds and it's rare for them to habitually return to the same spot, Cheung said. For them to return two years running means they're looking to make a permanent nest in the wooded area.
"This could be the first time in over 100 years that bald eagles have nested in this area," Cheung said.
The city plans to buy the land using state and federal grant money, and then deed the land to the Cook County Forest Preserve District for little or no cost, Cheung said. District officials said the city would be responsible for investigating the land quality and for cleanup.
Mittal, then ISG Steel, offered the district the same chunk of land earlier this year, but wanted a different section of forest preserve land in trade. That offer met with stiff resistance from some on the board, especially after environmental groups said the land ISG was offering was low quality.
Beale said he hopes the city and district can work together to create a viewing area that will let people see the rare birds from a safe distance.
"We want to preserve this," Beale said.
The forest preserve district's chief landscape architect, David Kircher, said any viewing areas or development will need approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which regulates the treatment of endangered and protected species such as the bald eagle.
"They don't even like to give out the locations of these things for fear of overexposure for these species," Kircher said. "We have to be careful."
City and county officials asked people not to go looking for the birds, as you could accidentally hurt their nest or disturb them