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Feds Failed Nesting Bald Eagles, Advocate Claims

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - In an experience familiar to many city dwellers, a family of bald eagles living in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Manassas has had their home disturbed by loud construction work that runs into the night.

Unlike most humans in similar situations, however, the eagles will have their construction issues heard in federal court, thanks to a lawsuit filed Nov. 1 that claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improperly allowed a construction company to build two large office buildings just feet from their nest without a permit.

The suit, filed with a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., claims the construction has disturbed the eagles' flight path, destroyed their foraging and feeding areas, and deprived the people of Manassas of being able to follow the lives of their treasured feathery neighbors.

"There is a continual and ongoing disturbance to the Manassas Eagles on a daily basis," the complaint says. "The construction crews and noises have forced the eagles to leave their nest while workers are present. The female was absent from the area the entire month of August. This is abnormal behavior for this pair as she has never been absent the nest or habitat in recent years."

The construction has especially disturbed the eagles at night, when bright lights and loud generators have prevented them from returning to their nest, according to the nine-page complaint.

The eagles' human advocate in court is Nokesville, Va., resident Amber Taylor, who "derives immense pleasure" from watching the eagles on her visits to Manassas. Taylor says the construction has prevented her from observing their "normal behaviors" as she has done in the past.

The complaint centers on a July 2015 letter from Valerie Slocumb, the chief of the migratory bird permit office at the Fish and Wildlife Service, that allegedly allowed a construction company to put up two 40,000 square foot office buildings next to the trees.

The letter, referred to in the complaint as the "Slocumb Letter," allowed the company to do this without a permit because the proposed construction dates fell outside of the eagles' nesting season, according to the complaint.

Taylor says Slocumb's decision violates the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which outlaws the "take" of a bald eagle or its nest without the permission of the secretary of the interior. The act doesn't just prohibit the killing of an eagle, but also covers bothering or agitating an eagle to the point that it is injured or unable to breed normally, Taylor claims.

In addition to Slocumb, the suit lists Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe as defendants.

Taylor, who is represented by Virginia attorney David Webster, seeks a court order requiring a permit to be issued before construction is allowed to continue, as well as a declaration that the agencies violated the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Webster did not return a request for comment. A representative for the Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment.


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