Government shutdown slows dispute over eagle nest tree

(WBIR-Sevierville) The fate of a tree that once housed nesting eagles in Sevierville is up in the air until the government shutdown is over.

Crews cut down a portion of the tree on Wednesday night. But one man said it violates federal law.

The nesting tree is made up of three trunks that come together; crews cut down two of the trunks.

It is located off of Highway 66 in Sevierville, near the Kroger and Lowe's.

The last two years, a couple of eagles have nested at the spot during the spring. Earlier this year, the American Eagle Foundation rescued a pair of eaglets from that nest after a storm.

"Eagles after they're done nesting, they'll go off to some other location, some place just to take a vacation. But they have this amazing GPS in them that brings them right back to the nest tree that they nested in the prior season," said Al Cecere, founder of American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge.

Cecere watched crews haul away a portion of the tree. He said it violates the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, that protects active eagle nest trees.

"It's very important that we save this nest tree because we've waited a long time to get eagles to come back to Sevier County and to Pigeon Forge," Cecere said.

WBIR looked at an email sent to Cecere from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Carmen Simonton, with USFWS Southeast Region, said to Cecere that she had contacted Ken Maples, the property owner, and asked him to "cease all activities involving the nest tree."

Maples sent WBIR a series of email exchanges between him and Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, with USFWS Migratory Bird Division Southeast Region. He had inquired about removing the trees for a future tenant who planned to develop the land.

Kirkpatrick responded with, "If an eagle nest is no longer present in the tree, the tree itself is not protected and may be cut down."

But Cecere disagrees and said remains from previous nests were still there, prior to it being cut down.

Simonton asked Maples to consider delaying the clearing process until they could further discuss it. Maples agreed.

Most likely, no decision can be made until after the government shutdown ends.

Cecere believes eagles could still nest at the spot, with the one trunk.


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