What started as an affordable housing vs. bald eagle sticky situation has ended in some of the city’s most treasured trees with regard to eagle viewing staying put while the scaled-back project moves forward.
The planned Kechter Townhomes are being built on five acres the city purchased as part of its land bank of property set aside for affordable housing. The site is adjacent to Twin Silo Park, just southeast of Fossil Ridge High School and just down the road from Zach Elementary.
It’s prime real estate.
The problem is, it’s also prime eagle real estate.
The site’s nine large cottonwood trees plus another on the adjacent Observatory Village neighborhood attract more than a dozen bald eagles at a time in winter, which in turn attracts large numbers of people viewing and photographing the national bird of the U.S.
Clark Mapes, a city planner involved with the project, saidinitially all the large mature cottonwoods on the site were to be removed, which drew criticism from residents. Adjustments were made to save some of the trees after that criticism, and the current final plan calls for saving all of the trees.
The latest plan also calls for reducing the number of townhomes from 60 to 54, with 11 buildings total. Mapes said construction is expect to start in May.
While the trees will stay, what remains unanswered is what, if any, mitigation is needed to protect the trees and bald eagles.
That answer will come after Colorado Parks and Wildlife determines what attracts the eagles in such large numbers to the trees. Possible uses include roosting, loafing and hunting. Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff started conducting winter roost surveys in mid-December and will continue surveying through early March. There are no eagle nests in the trees.
Mapes said if communal or night roosting by eagles is confirmed, some form of mitigation would occur. That could include restricting hours in which construction could take place as well as protecting the tree in the northwest corner of the project from construction, planting young cottonwoods to replace the aging tree and pruning the tree to prolong its life.
After much deliberation, the plan calls for no spatial buffers around the area since the eagles have demonstrated a tolerance to nonconstruction activities associated with the surrounding neighborhoods, Twin Silo Park and schools. It was also noted that bald eagle habitat exists less than a mile away along the Poudre River and Fossil Creek Reservoir. Those sites include recognized roost sites, communal roosts, winter concentration areas, and winter and summer hunting areas.
Mapes said he believes it is the first time the city’s bald eagle standards in the Land Use Code have been invoked for a development project.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates more than 1,200 bald eagles winter in Colorado with many leaving in spring. An estimated 125 pairs of bald eagles nest in the state.
Bald eagle viewing tips
- Use binoculars or a spotting scope.
- Photographers should use a long telephoto lens.
- Stay a football field length away when viewing.
- If an eagle stops what it is doing to watch you, you are too close.
- Stay in your vehicle or use a tree as a blind, putting it between you and the eagles.
- Respect private property and ask permission before entering private property.
- Keep quiet.
- Do not bring pets to viewing areas.
Eagle viewing outing
Larimer County is hosting an eagle viewing outing at 10 a.m. Saturday at River Bluffs Open Space, 6101 E. Larimer County Road 32E.
To register, contact Angela Borland at email@example.com, 970-619-4489 or visit www.larimer.org/events/natural-resources/bald-eagle-viewing-river-bluffs-2021-02-13.
Fort Collins area bald eagle viewing spots
Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area: Just west of the intersection of Interstate 25 and Larimer County Road 32. This city-managed property is where you’ll find some of the largest concentrations of bald eagles, but the viewing is difficult because the eagles generally are far from the viewing area. Bring a spotting scope or good pair of binoculars and view from the wildlife viewing pier along the reservoir. Observe seasonal trail closures.
Arapaho Bend Natural Area: From Harmony Road, drive north along Strauss Cabin Road on the eastern edge of Fort Collins and look for the eagles either in the cottonwood trees or on the pond ice. The area around this site also offers good viewing opportunities.
Kyger Open Space: Located just east of the River Bluffs Open Space near the intersection of Larimer County Road 13 and Colorado Highway 392 in Windsor. There is a large tree along Larimer County Road 32E on the north side of the open space where eagles are often seen.
Windsor Lake: Located just north of downtown Windsor, look for eagles on the ice.
Prospect Ponds Natural Area: Off of East Prospect Road and Sharp Point Drive. There are many ponds and cottonwoods in this natural area. Park at the natural area’s parking lot and not along the road.
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.