Sunday, May 26, 2024 May 26, 2024
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How to Watch the White Rock Lake Eagles Without Getting Fined $100K

The birds are a protected species. Let's be careful.

We’ve talked a bit here about the nesting pair of bald eagles near White Rock Lake. About 100 days have elapsed since they were first spotted and brought to the attention of the Parks Department and state and federal agencies. Till now, we’ve been vague about their exact location because they are a federally protected species, and we didn’t want to contribute to crowding that might disturb the birds. But now fencing has been put up. It has become more obvious where the nest sits. Based on what I saw last weekend, folks still aren’t giving the birds their space. So I’d like to offer some guidance for responsible birdwatching:

First, here’s what I can tell you about the current state of affairs after talking last week to someone at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Bald eagles nesting in Dallas is a super rare occurrence. That’s one reason it has taken the Parks Department so long to address the issue. Temporary plastic fencing has been erected along the magenta lines that you see above in the top-quality, professionally rendered diagram. In a couple weeks, a contractor will put up cyclone fencing that will cover more distance and make it tougher to wander into the “no” area that I’ve outlined in yellow.

The parking lot on the south side of the park (D) is fenced off. But last weekend, people were still parking in the lot on the north side (C), near the playground, then walking around the temporary fence and getting too close to the tree with the eagles’ nest (A). Don’t do that!

The Parks Department put a sign near the fence that says you can be fined up to $100,000 for disturbing the eagles. Yes, that’s technically true. Here’s the law. As written, it sounds like it’s meant to keep people from trafficking in eagles. To wit: “Whoever … shall knowingly, or with wanton disregard for the consequences of his act take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or in any manner any bald eagle … alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof of the foregoing eagles, or whoever violates any permit or regulation issued pursuant to this subchapter, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than one year or both.”

Watch that word “take,” though. In this case, it means not only shooting or shooting at the eagles but also molesting or disturbing them. As for the fine, there’s a difference between a civil violation and criminal violation of the law; the latter gets you into the triple digits. So if you’re just being an inconsiderate twit, $5,000 is your fine limit, and my headline is a bit misleading. Apologies.

Technically, then, everyone driving on Buckner Boulevard could be “taking” the eagles. If Fish & Wildlife wanted to generate some revenue, they could set up one of those red-light cameras and mail us all $5,000 tickets for disturbing the eagles. I’m kidding, of course. Unless F&W wants to cut me in on this deal for coming up with the brilliant idea, in which case I’m totally serious.

So where does all this leave us? Well, those rugby and soccer fields at Lake Highlands Park will be off limits through May or June. (Sorry, folks.) By then, we’ll know whether the eagles have produced offspring; typically the birds move on at that point in the season. I guess they go to Aspen like everyone else in Dallas with money or connections to the federal government.

Your move, if you want to ogle the eagles, is to set up shop across the road from the nest. There is plenty of space in the grass on the other side of Buckner (B). You can park in one of the lots for the Stone Tables Playground and walk over to the edge of the road. Yes, you’ll still be inside the protective zone that F&W wants around the nest, but six lanes of traffic will separate you from the eagles, and you won’t molest or disturb the birds any more than all those cars are already molesting and disturbing them.

Enjoy the rare sight, folks. Be respectful. And, above all, let’s refer to the birds by their proper names, which are Harold and Maude, not Nick and Nora.


Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers