Wednesday 23 August 2017

Forget fireworks where eagles pair, July 4 revellers told

The bald eagle is an iconic symbol of the United States
The bald eagle is an iconic symbol of the United States

Independence Day fireworks traditions in a small Connecticut town are rocketing towards a clash as wildlife experts try to protect another iconic symbol of the United States.

Authorities in Columbia are asking residents to forego July 4 fireworks this year for the sake of a family of bald eagles.

Last summer, a pair of eagles became the first to call Columbia Lake home since the species returned to the state in 1992.

This spring, an eaglet appeared in the nest, about 100 feet up a tree.

The bird is not yet old enough to fly and Brian Hess, a wildlife biologist with the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (Deep), said there was a real fear that the noise of fireworks could be enough to scare the youngster out of the nest before it is ready.

"Eagles and fireworks are both sort of this great American tradition," he said.

"But I can't think of a more perfectly startling thing than a firework."

The town has shared a letter from Mr Hess urging people to avoid fireworks during their Independence Day celebrations.

Mr Hess also is advising people not to visit the nest as d isturbing it could lead the birds to leave the area for good.

Eagles, which mate for life, normally return to the same nesting site for years.

Mr Hess said the eaglet should be ready to fly in a couple of weeks and will probably stay with its parents through August before heading out on its own.

There is no official fireworks display in Columbia, but Mark Walter, the town administrator says illegal displays are common, especially at the 282-acre lake.

It was once a popular summer holiday destination, but is now a year-round home to many middle-class and wealthy New Englanders.

"It's similar to many towns that have a lake," he said.

"The fourth of July is a holiday that people celebrate with fireworks."

Bald eagles, though no longer considered an endangered species, are still threatened and are protected by national and state laws because of their unique status as a symbol of the nation, Mr Hess said.

Anyone found to have set off fireworks leading to harm would be prosecuted and could face fines and jail.

"The Deep will be available for dispatch if needed," Mr Walter said.

"The resident trooper will be the enforcement agency to make any finds concerning illegal fireworks."

Janice Thibodeau, who has lived on the lake for 28 years, said several of her neighbours had already bought fireworks worth thousands of dollars, as they do each year.

She said the residents' association had also sent out a letter urging everyone to refrain from fireworks this year, but she fears some people will ignore it.

"I would not be happy if something happens to that eaglet," she said.

"I hope maybe they can just wait and shoot them off for Labour Day."

AP

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