Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis has appointed a Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee to assist the City in developing a sanctuary on City land that surrounds a recently-discovered Bald Eagle nest. This nest is the first active eagle nest known to have been established in Broward County since DDT was abolished in the 1970s. The existence of this nest was publicized by local media, and has attracted much attention from the general public. Since the nest is located only about 150 feet from the edge of Pines Boulevard (State Highway 820), it may be readily viewed from the grassy swale that borders the south shoulder of the 20800 block of the highway.
Earlier this year, local officials as well as FDOT became aware of certain hazards posed by the large number of observers who congregated along the side of the roadway, especially during the months of January through May, when young eagles were present in the nest. At various times, especially on weekends, over 50 vehicles and more than 100 spectators gathered there at one time. Since most observers spent only a limited time at the site, there was much turnover. Traffic and crowd control measures were implemented. FDOT placed “No Parking” signs along that stretch of roadway, in an attempt to eliminate the collision hazard posed by vehicles stopping to park and re-enter the highway. The City erected a fence around the property with “No Trespassing” signs, and placed pylons along the entire block about 30 feet from the roadway, to further discourage vehicular traffic and keep pedestrians from approaching too close to the nest.
In an effort to educate the public and also to help maintain order during times of peak visitor traffic, a cadre of local citizens assembled as an ad hoc eagle watching group. Several of these lay citizens now serve on the Mayor’s Steering Committee. At the July 20 meeting, they related some experiences that raise very serious public safety and liability concerns.
Unauthorized parking continued even after the FDOT erected signs. This was often innocent, as the signs faced the roadway rather than oncoming traffic. Many drivers failed to see the signs until they were pointed out by the volunteers or other observers. There were several “near misses” due to vehicles slowing down (whether to park or inquire about the reason for the presence of the crowds), but no collisions were observed. Speeders and other drivers distracted by the presence of the observers, or possibly by cell phones, sometimes did not reduce speed, or veered out of lanes and caused near-collisions. The lack of parking spaces near the nest led some motorists to park in traffic lanes, such as the westbound right and left turn lanes at 209th Avenue.
Most seriously, pedestrians stood too close to the paved roadway. Looking at the nest through binoculars and cameras, they sometimes backed up onto the pavement. Small children were seen to actually venture into the traffic lane while their parents were inattentive or distracted. Thankfully, there have been no reports of pedestrian accidents, but this situation creates an urgent and abiding concern to members of the Steering Committee. We believe that the modest cost of providing safety measures pales in comparison to the liability that may be associated with a single serious injury or fatality.
Since the eagles instinctively return to the same territory each winter to begin the breeding cycle, and normally re-use the same nest, this scenario, with its associated hazards, is be expected to be repeated in future years. We believe that Florida Department of Transportation has an interest in, and responsibility to assure the safety of, pedestrians who view the eagle nest from FDOT property along the south side of the 20800 block of Pines Boulevard. We request that FDOT implement additional measures to reduce public liability for any injuries or deaths that may result from failure to act before the return of crowds of eagle observers in January, 2010.
Members of the Committee recommended, in priority order, that Doug Young, chair of the Bald Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee bring these concerns to the attention of FDOT, with a request that the agency consider taking the following measures:
1. Place a temporary hard barrier along the south (eastbound) side of the highway, to create a soft breakdown lane on the right shoulder, and also to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic. Since there are several nest vantage points along the roadway, the barrier should be at least 100 to 150 feet long. FDOT engineers could determine construction, whether plastic water-filled, or concrete “Jersey Barriers.” Observers would be limited to the south side of the barrier, away from vehicular traffic.
2. Improve “No Parking” signage so that the signs face oncoming traffic.
3. Add temporary warning traffic signs recommending that motorists exercise caution and reduce speed along that stretch of roadway during the months of January through May.
4. Develop, in cooperation with the City of Pembroke Pines, durable temporary signs that instruct pedestrian observers to utilize crosswalks at signal lights (at corners of 209th and 208th Avenues) and provide additional information to increase observer safety, such as staying off the shoulder or roadway, controlling children and pets, not littering, (etc).
5. Consider construction of a pedestrian sidewalk on the south side of the block, in view of the increased pedestrian traffic at all times of the year (due not only to the eagle nest, but also the new High School and the recently-installed traffic signals at 209th Avenue that provide additional protected access to the bus stop at the SE corner of 208th Avenue).
6. While parking concerns are mainly within the purview of local authorities, FDOT may be offer some advice and assistance to the City.
Barbara Walker asked:
Is there an appropriate spot for an observation tower? Securing a vantage
point for monitoring is important. One of the eagle watchers, Joe and I
seem to have particularly perilous duty at several locations. Sometimes we
are walking along edges of high kill roads.
The only decent views of the nest are on the shoulder of the highway, which is FDOT property. Doug Young will bring up the question of locating an observation site there, perhaps portable or semi-permanent, with a seating area and shade from the sun. Right now we are focused on finding a safe way to separate the watchers from the highway traffic. We will keep everyone informed of the results of Doug's contacts with FDOT.
In reply to this post by Rosyfinch
It was really an honor to attend this meeting. Feeling that my input is valued as a nest watcher says so much about the goals of the Committee. It is such an interesting and talented group of people working to improve safety for all us who spend any time at the nest, along with the safety and preservation of the eagles and their nest woods. Everyone who observes and documents the activities of the eagle family are extremely important to the continuation of this very worthy and rewarding cause. If any ideas or thoughts occur to you concerning a safety issue for us or the eagles....please post it on the forum or email Ken or me.
Ken does such a great job of "steering" this whole experience in the right direction. I don't know where he finds the time to always organize our thoughts and turn the information into a working document. The eagles, as well as all of us who take so much pleasure from watching them, are very fortunate to have such a dedicated and talented person like Ken to lead us. Thank you sooooo much, Ken!
In reply to this post by Rosyfinch
If any viewing station or raised platform is proposed, then many options could become available. A location west or south, with elevated walkway access, may provide even better views than are possible from Pines Blvd. Also, a little more seperation may be attainable. These locations offer space for parking as well. Of course, all would have to be carefully studied, but many options exist. MF.
Hi, Mike-- your note gets me thinking (can you smell the wood burning?)
If feasible, a viewing area to the south or west, especially if raised, could be ideal. And you are right about the need for careful study and review of any plans, not to mention the need to obtain funding sources. The Steering Committee will work to specify the needs and explore funding sources, but only after a site plan is developed and all clearances are obtained.
The woods to the south of the nest are more open, but a southerly vantage point might not give the best view of the present nest site, as the nest tree itself may have more large nest support branches on that side, obstructing the view.
The nest is more visible from the west (especially the northwest, from the shoulder of the road), but disturbance should not be created inside the 330 foot prohibited zone. It is not likely that FDOT, which owns the shoulder of the road up to the temporary chain link fence, would permit construction of a platform or tower. There may not be enough City property on the west side to create a buffer, and the woods are rather dense. When we were searching for Hope, we could see the nest very well from the dead melaleucas, about 300-400 feet almost directly to the west, but we were on South Florida Water Management District (WMD) land. An elevated platform at the very edge of City land would provide a great vantage point.
I believe that WMD killed the trees in an attempt to allow the area to return to its original "Everglades" state. The sawgrass is quite healthy there, among the skeletons of the melaleucas, and Brian Mealey noted the return of several native shrubs. It might not make sense to disturb that area, though anything is possible.
An alternative might be to create a path along the western-most edge of City property-- you can see from the aerial photographs that herbicides were used as much as 20-30 feet inside the City land, so that margin is already clear.
In my opinion, a vehicular road and parking lot would require expensive engineering and probably would be excessive in scope, environmentally and economically. However, the idea of a footpath leading to an observation area (contained by fencing and including a raised platform) might be worth considering. There may be several candidate locations for observation posts to the west and southwest, or even deeper to the south. A footpath would also be easier to control and secure than a roadway. It could be quite muddy until the winter dry season is established.
That leaves the issue of where to park, something that has to be worked out in the next few months before the crowds return (assuming the eagles do come back to the nest site). I wonder about these possible areas:
1. South shoulder of Pines Boulevard west of 209th Avenue and east of 208th. Not as high, broad and level as the area in front of the nest.
2. Cul-de-sac at 209th (could hold maybe 6-10 automobiles if striped). Not sure whether the City or FDOT would have jurisdiction here, but it appears to be on FDOT land.
3. The south extension of 208th Avenue is posted now, and may be too narrow to permit parking, but is there room on both the shoulders to create perpendicular or diagonal parking?
4. Along 209th, to the north towards the High School, with parking restricted to one side of the street only-- would this be wide enough to accommodate the high school traffic-- they are adding a new senior class this coming school year, so there will be many more cars. This option, and any other parking that might be allowed along the north side of Pines Boulevard would provide pedestrians with safe crossing at the traffic signals.
5. There is the outside chance that the School District might need to lease all or part of the cow pasture on the north side of Pines between 209th and the Post Office at 210th Avenue, but the present student parking lot (permit only) is not fully utilized. Will there be pressure for more parking when the new senior class arrives?
Does anyone have better ideas? Please join the discussion.
The present viewing areas are about 180-200 feet from the nest, in areas that are already disturbed. Keep in mind that the melaleucas grow very quickly, and a "good" view may quickly turn bad. Conversely, both the melaleucas and the Australian Pines are quite brittle, and may fall, opening up new vistas. Of course, the nest tree itself is vulnerable to a windstorm. Happily, FPL has expertise in establishing alternative nesting sites and may offer to erect a pole platform if this should occur.
I love the idea of a western observation location! We could better observe the eagles as they fly around and perch in the dead maleleucas as well as still see the nest, but from a safer distance for the birds. Also, many other birds of prey land in the dead stand of maleleucas and some watchers have even photographed Pileated Woodpeckers there. It would be so much better to get the watchers away from the road. I still think we would need a plan to stop people standing along the south side of Pines in front of the nest. Maybe if we have a dedicated safe viewing area and post no standing along the road, it would help the liability situation for the City....but that's one for the legal experts! I smell the wood burning, Ken!
Observation areas that give the eagles a bit more breathing space are highly desirable. However, I'm sure that it is important that we do not introduce human traffic between the nest site and the stand of melaleucas to the west. The adults spend a great deal of time in the dead trees, and I'm sure that they would feel threatened if there were a throng of observers located between their roost and their nest. Are we talking about an observation site along US 27? That seems pretty far for good observing. We also need to remember that when the kids fledged, they spent a great deal of time roosting to the south. They may have chosen this location as it offered them a bit more of a buffer from the presence of observers at a time when their flight skills would not allow them to fly from perceived danger as easily as a fully flighted adult could. I think that we must be very cautious about changing any human activity patterns and locations. We can't do much about the increase of traffic along Pines Blvd, but where we funnel the curious public must be very cautiously planned.
That's a good thought, Kelly. I wish we could get into the eagles minds and know what they are thinking and what would be best for them. So many times I would wonder why they would come and land in the trees closest to all the nest watchers right above the power lines and stay there a long time and not seem bothered by their closeness to us. Sometimes they would be very close to the highway in the maleleucas and other times you could barely spot them way back to the south or west.
It seems like such a good idea to try to re-locate people from standing with their backs to the highway while cars are streaming by, or stopping, or the drivers paying attention to the nest, and not where they are going...but never at the expense of the eagles.
I think it's great that we have "brainstorming" here on the forum to have a purposeful flow of ideas to increase safety for the eagles always, but also considering the environment for the people observing and documenting their life cycle.
The idea of having diagonal parking along the southern end of 208th seems great if land/space is available. Of course, this takes away from having a western vantage point. On the west looks to be the "easiest" place to work-in access and viewing - the only negative is the eagles seem to love to roost on the dead malaleucas and we wouldn't want to do anything to upset the routine as we know it. But maybe they would just roost on them anyway as they did at the australian pine in front of us along the roadway? Also, they may choose to roost to other dead trees to the south.
Elevated walkways (a la Chapel Trail) are used because they are supported by posts which can be driven in the ground by machine without much distruption to the immediate area and allow the natural habitate to continue to grow beneath them. Also, animal life can traverse across without any apparent impedement.
If access could be provided from 208th to an area behind the nest (south) this may ultimately be the best solution. It would probably be best to take a group out into the area now while the eagles are gone and verify some of the available spaces and views around the site. This way, some of the suggestions could be ruled out or brought to the top of the wish-list.
Another thought about parking at the south part of 208th is it partially gets the cars out of site from passer-bys. When they see cars parked and observers standing around, they tend to slow (or even stop!!!) right in the roadway while other cars are approaching them at 45 or 50 mph. MF
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