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Local News

Powerlines endangering eagles' nest to be buried

A pair of eagles on their nest.
Joseph Seidell

PG&E has said burying the lines near a bald eagles' nest in Potter Valley is now the "preferred solution."

A Ponderosa pine tree in Potter Valley, and the decades-old bald eagle nest high in its branches, appear to be safe from PG&E crews that tried to remove them two years in a row due to their proximity to power lines. Now, after protesters from all over the state joined local activists and a nearby tribe to ensure that the tree remained standing, PG&E has declared that its “preferred solution” is to bury the lines. That would relieve the utility’s stated safety concerns about the tree possibly falling onto the line and sparking a fire. The pine, which is dying and shows damage from a beetle infestation, did not budge during the recent series of atmospheric rivers, though other trees went down all over the county.

Joseph Seidell, a tenant on the property, grew to love the birds. Their nest is just a few yards from the driveway on one side, and a few more yards away from the public road on another, making them local celebrities in the bird-watching community. Seidell started a GoFundMe campaign to underground the lines last year, but it fizzled.

“It made the most sense,” he said. “It was a very obvious solution because the nest was very happily sitting up there with plenty of years to go, according to the arborist. So we said, why should we take it down? It’s provided all this habitat, and there’s an obvious solution to put the lines underground. PG&E didn’t want to [bear] the expense, so we started a fundraiser. And we weren’t raising the money. It was a very large amount of money, close to a quarter million dollars…finally we found out recently that they said they were going to do it, through a lot of pressure…this would be the perfect win, win, win: win for the eagles, win for you, and win for us.”

Polly Girvin is an environmental and social justice advocate who has long been affiliated with the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians. She marveled at the effectiveness of the seven activists who kept vigil at the tree for over a week, saying, “I really want to say, it was the seven valiant souls who endured an atmospheric river downpour for seven days to document that the nest was active, and to stay until the federal nesting protective period under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations was activated, which was January 16th.”

On January 11, activists rebuffed an attempt by PG&E crews to cut down the tree, just hours before the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, requesting government to government consultations. Congressman Jared Huffman also weighed in, telling us that he has “had deep concerns about Fish and Wildlife’s ability to fulfill its mission with integrity for a number of years…If this was a permit U.S. Fish and Wildlife had to grant; if the law, facts and science compelled them,” he insisted; “They should have included tribal consultation. But they dropped the ball.”

Some neighbors say they remember first seeing the nest, which is just across the Eel River from Cape Horn Dam, in the mid-eighties. It’s consistently produced young, though not every year, and PG&E biologists believe that in some years, the pair has used an alternate nest site less than a mile away. But last year, the pair fledged at least one eaglet in the much-contested nest. This year, they returned, shortly after U.S. Fish and Wildlife issued the permit to take it down.

But Peter Galvin, who is the director of programs and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as a member of EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center, wondered if the agency had satisfied all the requirements before giving PG&E the nod.

“I suggested we look into whether the Section 106 Consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act had been done,” he recalled; “and because EPIC had been working closely with the Coyote Valley Band on the Jackson Demonstration State Forest, they already had good communications set up. And just maybe ten or fifteen minutes after the inquiry, the answer came back no. No, that didn’t happen, and they're concerned about this and they’re upset that that didn’t happen. So we caucused further and by later that day, the tribe had sent in a letter of objection that they had not received the necessary and legally required government to government consultation. We found out further that the Fish and Wildlife Service had issued a permit in early January for this action, only days after sending a letter, asking if the Coyote Valley Band had any concerns, and that this letter was sent over the holidays, and they didn’t wait for a response, and it turned out they did have concerns.”

Linda Marlin, the owner of the property where the eagle tree resides, said last week that PG&E was preparing an easement document for her to sign, so that the work can commence. PG&E had shut off electric power to the property, and was supplying generators and fuel to the residents. A fuel delivery truck had damaged the driveway during one of the storms, and Marlin reported that the company was repairing the damage, “as we speak.”

In a statement, PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland confirmed that the company is “working with the property owner on options and next steps;” and wrote that Ron Richardson, PG&E’s Vice President for the North Coast, had visited the site and spoken with community members and the company’s tribal relations representative. Richardson is quoted in the statement saying, “Undergrounding is now PG&E’s preferred solution for the lines on the Potter Valley property and we are working with the landowner in an attempt to secure the necessary land rights. This solution allows us to protect our hometowns while also taking into account the values of our local tribe, property owners and environmental advocates.” McFarland added that PG&E has also installed wildlife cameras on the site to monitor the nest, to “ensure that any current or planned PG&E work on the property is not disruptive.”

Girvin summed it up: “So basically, this boils to a direct action, front line, a tribal assertion of sovereignty, legal assistance, and many, many concerned citizens expressing their desire to not see this tree come down. So I’ll say, once again, it takes a village.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.