Reprieve comes, though possibly only temporary, for pine tree with bald eagle nest PG&E wants to cut down

After a one-year reprieve, the fate of the beloved bald eagle nest remains unclear.|

A prayer group grew hopeful Tuesday morning after witnessing a pair of bald eagles fly into a long-established nest near the top of a 120-foot Ponderosa pine in Mendocino County that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wanted to cut down.

An occupied nest meant PG&E crews would be forced to set down their chainsaws — at least for the time being.

A group of at least 15 people gathered under the tall conifer on a 186-acre ranch along Ridgeway Highway in Potter Valley to pray for the tree’s protection. PG&E considers the tree a potential fire hazard due to its proximity to a power line.

But this wasn’t the group’s first effort. A fight to protect the bald eagle nest began in January 2022 after PG&E crews targeted the tree for removal as part of the utility’s wildfire mitigation efforts. Neighbors protested and the crews backed down.

After a one-year reprieve, however, the group is concerned for the nest as it’s unclear if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will grant PG&E a permit this month to cut down the tree before nesting season begins mid-January.

“The earth is in trouble, we’re always thinking about what we need instead of what mother earth needs,” said Monkey Gonzalez, an organizer of the prayer circle. “Why not place the power lines underground?”

In January 2022, the group hired an electrical contractor to examine the property to determine the cost of placing power lines underground. The contractor estimated it would cost about $150,000-$200,000. So, the group started a GoFundMe hoping to raise the necessary funds.

“PG&E doesn’t see that it’s worth the investment even though they’ve announced to do more undergrounding to prevent wildfires,” said Joseph Seidell, a tenant on the property. “It would be a win-win.”

Fish and Wildlife considers the tree an “emergency and safety hazard” to the eagles and to the community since the power lines are between tree branches, according to Heather Beeler, eagle permit coordinator at Fish and Wildlife.

“No one wants baby eagles to be endangered,” Beeler said. “If that tree falls on the line, it’s now a safety hazard for animals and people.”

After inspections, a PG&E arborist, who lives in Mendocino County, confirmed the “pine tree is dying and will fail, it’s just a matter of when,” Megan McFarland, spokesperson for PG&E, said in an email Tuesday.

“We will not take chances with customer safety,” McFarland said.

Beeler said there’s an alternate nest less than a mile away for the eagles to use instead. Two other nesting sites also exist in the area.

Fish and Wildlife intends to issue a permit by mid-January and remove the nest before eggs are inside, which aren’t expected until late-February or March, Beeler said Wednesday. But Linda Marlin, owner of the property and a resident of Los Angeles, said she received an email Tuesday from a PG&E representative that indicated Tom Wheeler, an executive director and staff attorney for Environmental Protection Information Center, sent an email to Fish and Wildlife expressing opposition that may “affect the process.”

On Dec. 20, Fish and Wildlife hosted a Zoom meeting for concerned community members to weigh in on the issue, with a Dec. 27 deadline for public comment. In response, on Dec. 22, Wheeler sent an email to the federal agency that “scheduling a public comment deadline to fall squarely within the winter holiday season is dispiriting.”

“One can only assume that this was intentional to depress otherwise substantial and hostile comments,” Wheeler said in the email.

Though bald eagles are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, they’re protected by federal law. Under state forest practice rules, Jan. 15 each year is the start of a seven-month “critical period” when bald eagle nesting sites are protected from timber cutting.

“I hate it. I’m in between activists who I understand and care about and not wanting to be responsible for a fire,” Marlin said. “I’m in a tough position.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at @searchingformya on Twitter.

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