New Orleans Corps of Engineers diligent in protecting bald eagles, wildlife in project areas

USACE New Orleans
Published Jan. 17, 2023


When working on any project, one of the main responsibilities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is determining how that project will affect those living in that area. Not just the people, but also the natural habitats of fish and wildlife that pass through that area or call it home.

According to Bradley Drouant, a senior project manager with the USACE New Orleans District, the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain (WSLP) Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System Project is one of many such projects being undertaken by personnel working for the USACE New Orleans District.

“The WSLP Project is being constructed to reduce the risk of hurricanes and tropical storms for many residents in east bank St. John the Baptist and St. Charles Parishes. Construction of this approximately 18.5-mile-long levee system will result in the direct impacts to approximately 1,380 acres of wetlands,” said Drouant.

Patrick Smith, a biologist in the Environmental Studies Section of the USACE New Orleans District, noted that Corps personnel working on the WSLP Project are diligent when taking into consideration how projects may affect various species living in that area, whether they are aquatic (fish, crawfish and freshwater shrimp), avian (owls, eagles, herons and egrets), or terrestrial (alligators, turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes, squirrels and rabbits).

Smith noted that one species just recently removed (or de-listed) from the list of threatened species, the bald eagle, can possibly been seen in the vicinity of the WSLP Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System Project Area.

“Corps personnel follow a robust monitoring plan for bald eagles and colonial waterbirds in coordination with federal and state resources agencies,” said Smith. “This includes biannual airborne surveys for bald eagles, colonial waterbirds, and their nests and nesting behavior. If colonial nesting sites and eagles’ nests are observed in the project area, specific actions to reduce and minimize project impacts may occur, including work restrictions of up to 1,500 feet from a nesting bald eagle.”
As of the last airborne survey undertaken in December 2022, no bald eagles or bald eagle nesting sites were observed in the WSLP Hurricane and Storm Risk Reduction System Project Area.

Smith stated that bald eagle populations in Louisiana and across much of their range in the contiguous United States have been increasing since their extreme lows in the 1970s. It is thought that their rebound over the past several decades is due to federal actions, such as the 1973 ban of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), the Clean Water Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act (ESA). Their numbers were so low that from 1967 to 1995 they were listed as endangered under the ESA.

Smith noted that from 1995 until their de-listing in 2007, the bald eagle was considered a threatened species. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries estimates approximately 350 active nests in Louisiana, up from approximately five breeding pairs in the 1970s, said Smith. Bald eagles are at the top of the food web and mostly prey on fish. Most bald eagles in Louisiana are migratory, with many individual birds returning annually to their birthplace.

In addition to bald eagles, Smith noted the project area is also known to support colonial nesting waterbirds (herons, egrets and others) protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Also, two aquatic species currently on the threatened wildlife list – the Gulf sturgeon and the West Indian manatee – have been known to frequent the project area. For aquatic animals such as manatees, all personnel associated with projects in the work areas are notified about their potential presence and required to follow specific protocols when these animals are present.

“The Corps of Engineers recognizes the importance of being good stewards of our environment, protecting resources and the wildlife that live in the areas in which we operate,” said Drouant. “We take this into consideration as much as possible when working on projects designed to benefit the people visiting and living in the state of Louisiana.”