Eagles Protection

Eagles Protection

Bald Eagle-related Activities near the M124-00-00 Phase 1 Project Area

The Harris County Flood Control District first became aware of eagles near its proposed M124-00-00 stormwater conveyance improvement project in 2018. Since then, the Flood Control District has worked with federal environmental regulators to protect the eagle nests, while still planning an important flood risk reduction project for the area.

The Flood Control District’s federal permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the eagles includes different restrictions on construction and other activities that occur during the nesting season of September through June and those that occur outside the nesting season.

Eagles successfully nested in this vicinity during the 2018/19 season (with one fledgling), the 2019/20 season (with two fledglings), the 2020/21 season (with two fledglings), and have been spotted back in the area for the 2021/22 nesting season, which is from September 2021 to about June 2022.

A timeline of eagle-related activities in this area:

Updated as of September 2021

2021-22 Nesting Season

  • On September 7, 2021, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued an amended permit which extended the Harris County Flood Control District’s permission to conduct its revised M124-00-00 flood risk reduction project, with requirements designed to avoid disturbing a nearby eagle nest which has been active in this area for several years.
  • First issued and effective in October 2019, the USFWS permit now extends until August 31, 2022. (USFWS is the agency responsible for enforcing the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.)
  • In early September 2021, eagles were spotted by a Harris County Flood Control District contractor near last year’s nesting tree. This was confirmed by a Flood Control District avian biologist. Later during the month, nesting activity was confirmed at the same nesting tree used in the 2020-21 nesting season.
  • • The nesting tree and most of its protected buffer area are on private property. The 660-foot eagle nest buffer zone extends partially into Flood Control District and Texas Department of Transportation right-of-way.
  • By the time eagles were spotted in September 2021, work as part of the M124-00-00 Phase 1 project within the eagle nest buffer zone was complete and the contractor had left the zone, except for turf establishment, which is allowed under the USFWS permit.
  • No one is allowed in the eagle nest buffer zone during nesting season without Flood Control District approval and in keeping with the permit. No further construction work in the zone by the Flood Control District is expected this nesting season.
  • M124-00-00 Phase 2 activities are currently in the Design stage, with construction to follow pending funding availability. Phase 2 is expected to include at least four sequential packages or segments of construction. No further Flood Control District activities near the eagle nesting area are anticipated until a fourth package of Phase 2 construction, which is at least several years away.
  • Maintenance activities in Flood Control District right-of-way such as mowing are allowed under the permit. The HCFCD mowing schedule is explained and tracked on the web site: https://www.hcfcd.org/Resources/Interactive-Mapping-Tools/Mowing-Schedule-Explained
  • The permit includes a requirement that the Flood Control District continue monitoring during the nesting season, between October 2021 and May 2022.
History of Eagle-Related Activities in This Area
  • In the Summer of 2018, Flood Control District surveyors spotted an unoccupied eagle nest while conducting field work as part of the planned M124-00-00 flood risk reduction project.
  • Flood Control District notified the appropriate federal environmental regulatory personnel and began observations in January 2019.
  • Because the nesting tree was within the proposed right-of-way for the M124-00-00 project, the Flood Control District delayed the project so that the alignment could be altered to be at least 100 feet away from the nesting tree, which is the federal standard.
  • In late September 2019, eagle monitors (avian biologists) found that the original nest had been partially destroyed, presumably by a storm event.
  • On October 10, 2019, the Flood Control District executed a Permit from USFWS (effective 10/7/2019 to 8/31/2021) allowing the Flood Control District to continue with its revised flood risk reduction project, with requirements designed to avoid disturbing the eagle nest. This included a requirement that the Flood Control District continue monitoring the nest area on a monthly basis between October and May of each year.
  • On October 10, 2019, eagle monitors confirmed that eagles returning during the 2019-20 nesting season were building a new nest in a different nesting tree in close proximity to the original nesting tree. This current nesting tree is on private property and still outside of the revised M124-00-00 project alignment (but several feet closer than the original nesting tree upon which the initial permit was based).
  • Flood Control District eagle monitors immediately notified USFWS to inform them of the change in location of the nesting tree.
  • In November 2019, USFWS issued new guidance for the existing permit which:
    • Includes the new nesting tree location
    • Includes a limited caveat to the typical rule prohibiting all construction activities within 100 feet of the nesting tree at all times. (This is because of the altered project and the changed nesting tree.)
    • Prohibits construction activities within 100 feet of the new nesting tree at all times, except for limited clearing and grubbing outside of nesting season, but no closer than the Flood Control District’s revised right-of-way line, which is 69 feet from the nesting tree.
    • Prohibits construction activities within 660 feet of the nesting tree during the nesting season.
  • On September 26, 2020, Flood Control District eagle monitors again spotted eagles in the area preparing for the 2020-21 nesting season.
  • Utility operators in the area were immediately contacted to stop any work, and a formal letter was sent by the Flood Control District on October 1, 2020, for contractors and subcontractors to cease work in the eagle buffer zone for the duration of the 2020-21 nesting season, in accordance with the federal permit.
  • Construction for Phase 1 of the M124-00-00 project began in January 2021. Phase 1 is from F.M. 2920 to State Highway 249
  • Phase I channel construction started at the southern end of the project alignment at F.M. 2920 and moved upstream (to the north and towards the nest).
  • Construction crews receive mandatory training in federal bald eagle regulations and avoiding eagle nest disturbances. This training is a requirement of the federal permit.
  • Warning signs were installed to help clearly identify the buffer area.
  • Phase 1 activities were limited to Flood Control District right-of-way and included clearing of trees and brush on Flood Control District right-of-way in the project buffer zone, but no closer than 69 feet from the nest tree.
  • Any Phase 1 activities within the 660-foot eagle nest tree buffer took place after USFWS confirmed that eagles had abandoned the 2020/2021 nest. These Phase 1 activities were required to be completed before a new nesting season.