Will reported sightings of bald eagles alter road plans?
Campbell , Staff Writer 01/17/2003
ANALYSIS: Advocates say birds' presence
bolsters area's status as wildlife refuge.
What do the recent spate of reported American bald eagle sightings in the
vicinity of Lake Carnegie have to do with the former Millstone Bypass?
Let's just say they're on the agenda.
In recent months, reported
sightings in the area of the lake and the
Kingston lock of the Delaware & Raritan Canal have been pressed into
service by environmental advocates seeking to highlight the area as a wildlife
refuge that should be protected.
Sightings reportedly have been made by
amateur and Princeton University rowers, residents and at least one
out-of-towner, and have been registered by the state and national Audubon
But most outspoken about the eagles — regardless of whether they
saw them themselves or not — have been environmentalists affiliated with the
Penns Neck Area Environmental Impact Statement Partners' Round Table. Of those
interviewed by The Packet, only one person reported actually seeing the
The round table, a community-advisory panel to the Voorhees
Transportation Policy Institute at Rutgers University, is helping weigh cultural
and environmental impacts from potential alternatives to the former
A draft Environmental Impact Statement evaluating 18 roadway
alignment alternatives to the former state-endorsed roadway is expected to be
released in the spring. The state Department of Transportation commissioned
Rutgers to study possible solutions to traffic congestion in the Penns Neck area
around Route 1 and Washington Road after former Gov. Christie Whitman rejected
the agency's recommendation favoring the Millstone Bypass.
component of many of those alternatives incorporate an eastside connector road
between Route 571 and Route 1 that would run along the Millstone River, and
according to those most vocal about the eagles, cut a swath through a wildlife
Ridgeview Road resident Lincoln Hollister, a geology professor
at Princeton University and a longtime opponent of the former bypass, said the
Penns Neck Area EIS was very much on his mind when he called The Packet about
the eagle sightings.
In December, members of the round table delivered
reports and a photograph of an eagle reportedly taken by a rower and Kingston
resident to the project team at Rutgers as further evidence of the need for
conservation in the region, said Mr. Hollister, who hasn't seen one of the birds
himself but cites five others whom he says have.
Jon Carnegie, senior
project manager with the Transportation Policy Institute, confirmed receiving
the reports and said the institute has notified state and federal wildlife
"We're taking appropriate actions to fully consider the
sightings of these eagles in the vicinity of the project area," Mr. Carnegie
said, noting that preliminary feedback from wildlife experts indicates the birds
probably are migratory.
"For the people dealing with the EIS, it's not a
question of stopping (the roadway) or being obstructionist," said Mr. Hollister.
"The agenda is preserving this wild area, and that's not against the Penns Neck
EIS. The eagle is being used as an attention getter to this existing bird
Nassau Street resident Karyn Milner, one of Mr. Hollister's
sources, said she saw two eagles in October while driving past the Lake Carnegie
boat launch off Route 27.
For the past year and a half, Ms. Milner said,
she has observed what she believes are several immature eagles along the
Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath along the lake, evidence she said that the
birds are nesting and not just stopping for food on their fall
Ms. Milner said she is concerned about encroachment by
university construction and the bypass plan. She reported her October sighting
to the state, and spread the word through an e-mail network of the Millstone
Bypass Alert, an affiliation of around two dozen area advocacy groups.
was through this network that Ms. Milner's e-mail reached Mr. Hollister, first
alerting him to the birds.
The Sierra Club's Laura Lynch, who sits on the
Partners' Roundtable and has been quoted in the media linking the eagles with
the Penns Neck Area EIS, said she would be outspoken about the birds whether or
not their habitat was in the path of a possible future roadway.
impulse hasn't been 'let's fight the road, so hey, let's find an endangered
animal,' " said Ms. Lynch, debunking the notion that the eagle is a fraud
perpetrated by bypass opponents.
Those seeking to raise awareness of the
eagle in the context of the EIS have no illusions that one or two eagles — if
they are, in fact, nesting in the area — can kill the road, said Ms. Lynch. But
they do want the birds' presence to be considered along with the trove of other
environmental and cultural data under review, she said.
"We haven't been
plotting and scheming; it's just another factor," Ms. Lynch said. "There's no
aim to find the nest with an agenda of stopping the road. The project is too
big, and a lot of little pieces. If there's something in the way, you move the
Laurie Larson, a Montgomery Township resident and compiler for
the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count in December, said she
received a report of a bald eagle sighting at Mercer County Park in West Windsor
during the count.
As secretary of the New Jersey Audubon Society's Bird
Records Committee, she has received numerous reports of sightings in the
vicinity of Lake Carnegie, she said.
Given their biology, Ms. Larson
said, the birds likely were migrants stopping for fish at the lake and not
"You have to have much more than one sighting of a migrant eagle
to protect a habitat, but I'm sympathetic to their (environmental advocates')
concerns," she said. "Anyone who's interested in birds understands it's
important to protect their habitat."
Bald eagles, which are on the
state's threatened species list, are on the rise in New Jersey, up from a single
nest reported between 1970 and 1988 to 27 in 2001, said Ms. Larson, who credited
efforts by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
said it is important for sightings to be reported to the DEP's Endangered and
Nongame Species Program, which can be reached at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensphome.htm.