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January 5, 2012 / V A Nichols

Notes from January 4th Birmingham Park Board meeting

East Lake Park island resident- beavers to be displaced, denied preferred food source, in Birmingham Audubon Society’s efforts to promote charismatic birds.  Herons could be frightened away from the nesting site by human disturbance.

On Wednesday, January 4th, the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board held its first of two monthly meeting at Legion Field. The second meeting is scheduled for January 18th.

On the agenda was an item listed as:  ‘Consideration of a request from Hans Paul, President of the Birmingham Audubon Society to promote East Lake Park as a site on the Alabama Tourism Department’s Alabama Birding Trails System.’

While this sounds like a complimentary effort at first glance, what does it really mean?

According to Society President Hans Paul the project will have four phases: protect, plant, replace the base materials of the island, and build interpretative signage.

  • Protect trees on the East Lake island from resident beavers for nesting herons. This will involve ‘caging’ the trunks of the trees with wire, denying the beavers their food source there.
  • Adding weeping willow trees to the island was suggested by Mr. Paul because of their vast root system. It was noted that willows are a favorite food source for beavers, however they (trees) would be ‘caged’ as well.
  • How the base materials of the island would be replaced was not shared by Mr. Paul.
  • Interpretive birding signs would be provided by the society.

At the close of Mr. Paul’s presentation, questions were asked by the Park Board Commissioners.

When asked about the island at East Lake park, Mr. Paul stated that he had not yet seen the island.

When asked about the total budget amount for the entire project, Mr. Paul stated it was unknown.

When asked about requested assistance from the city to plant trees on the island, Mr. Paul stated that he could plant the trees.

It should be noted that Great Heron (found at East Lake Park), while typically four feet tall with a six-foot wing span,  have hollow bones and therefore usually weigh less than five pounds. They do not require large, strapping trees for nesting. In some areas heron even nest on the ground.

When asked by an interested citizen, what specific impact Mr. Paul thought the Society’s actions would have on the resident beavers, Mr. Paul had no answer.  Society member, Dick Mills, acknowledged that the beavers had built a small lodge (home) adjacent to the island.

As the discussion continued, Mr. Mills stated that East Lake Park was not the best habitat for beavers. However, the presence of beavers for many years at the park, their ability to sustain themselves there,  and their ability to create a home for themselves there indicates otherwise.

In closing the discussion, Mr. Mills was asked if he perceived East Lake Park as an ecosystem ( a community of living and non-living things that work together to make a balanced system ).

He said that he did. BUT, he acknowledged the Society’s intention to create a habitat specific for the heron on the island. This is said to include removal of fallen trees to make the island ‘pretty.’

It should be noted that this action will prevent other species from living there.  Other wild birds and small animals that rest, and nest, and forage on naturally fallen trees will be excluded.

A healthy ecosystem has lots of species diversity and is less likely to be seriously damaged by human interaction, natural disasters and climate changes.

The National Audubon website states: “The birds may abandon rookeries (nesting sites) or experience diminished reproductive success when disrupted, especially early in the breeding season.’    (click the ‘Conservation Status’ tab)

An article by The Birmingham News, dated December 28, 2011, states: “Society members would like to do something quickly. Herons typically build nests in January, according to so­ciety President Hans Paul.”

This conflicting information begs the question: Is now the best time to disturb the heron and other wildlife?

One Audubon group in Illinois has found a way to support nesting heron without reducing other species or causing great disturbance.  Through artificial trees or nesting platforms they have successfully provided support to their local heron. In 2010 twelve nesting sites were used.

The Birmingham Park and Recreation Board vote on the request was not unanimously in support. Commissioner Theodore L. Smith abstained.

In 1842 the United States Supreme Court determined that wildlife belongs to all citizens.  Wildlife does not belong to special interest, so-called conservation groups who would manage them for their own purposes.

Supporting one species does not require the detriment of another.

Nature, self-managed, shows us the intricate balance that is possible.

If you would like a more even-handed approach to supporting the wildlife at East Lake Park, please contact the  Birmingham Park and Recreation Board at 205-254-2391.

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