Originally Published: December 27, 2014 6 a.m.
Each December as part of its successful program to manage and conserve bald eagles in the state, the Arizona Game and Fish Department asks outdoor recreationists and aircraft pilots to help protect important eagle breeding areas by honoring the closure of 23 areas across the state.
Various land and wildlife management agencies close the breeding areas for part of the year to protect the state's 55 breeding pairs of bald eagles.
Some of the closure areas are located near popular recreation sites, but so far this year, there is no closure at Lynx Lake on the Prescott National Forest because the eagles haven't shown signs of breeding activity.
Several areas along the Verde River are closed, however.
"Cooperation from outdoor recreationists has been a major reason that the population continues to grow, and now we're working to create more awareness among pilots of all aircraft types," said Kenneth Jacobson, head of the Arizona Game and Fish Department Bald Eagle Management Program. "Bald eagles can be very sensitive to even short durations of low-flying aircraft activity near their nests and just a few minutes of disturbance can lead to nesting failure. Pilots should maintain the FAA-recommended 2,000-foot above ground level advisory when flying over bald eagle habitat."
In December, Arizona bald eagles begin rebuilding nests in preparation for laying eggs. Bald eagles nest, forage and roost at the rivers and lakes that have become some of Arizona's most popular recreation spots, and this time of year can be challenging for the birds.
Game and Fish's bald eagle management efforts are supported by the Heritage Fund, an initiative passed more than 20 years ago to provide money for wildlife education and conservation through Arizona lottery ticket sales.
The closures in Yavapai County include:
Verde River near Chasm Creek is closed to foot and vehicle entry from Dec. 1 to June 15. Floating through is allowed. Contact Prescott National Forest, Verde Ranger District, 928-567-4121.
Verde River near Cold Water Creek, allows watercraft to float through but no stopping on the river or landing is allowed Dec. 1 to June 30. Contact Prescott National Forest, Verde Ranger District, 928-567-4121.
Lake Pleasant - No vehicle, watercraft, or foot entry is allowed into the Lower Agua Fria Arm from Dec. 15 to June 15. Contact Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, 928-501-1710.
A closure for the Verde River below Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is not planned this year unless the eagle pair resumes nesting. Contact Coconino National Forest, Sedona Ranger District for updates, 928-282-4119.
Tips for viewing bald eagles
If you are visiting bald eagle country, an advance call to the local land management agency (U.S. Forest Service district, etc.) or the Arizona Game and Fish Department may help you plan your trip to avoid disturbing bald eagles. By following these simple guidelines, everyone can help ensure that bald eagles will last for generations to come:
Enjoy bald eagles from outside the closures, which are marked with signs and/or buoys. Watch from a distance using a spotting scope, binoculars or telephoto camera lens.
Anyone approached by a nest watcher and asked to cease an activity or leave a closed area should comply. A few good places to see bald eagles without disturbing them (during December and January) are at Lake Mary and Mormon Lake near Flagstaff or on the Verde Canyon Train at Clarkdale.
Bald eagles protecting an active nest will let you know if you are too close. If a bald eagle is vocalizing and circling the area frantically, you are too close and need to leave the area quickly. Bald eagles incubating eggs or brooding small young should never be off the nest for more than 15 minutes.
Pilots should maintain the FAA-recommended 2,000-foot AGL advisory when flying over bald eagle habitat such as along the riparian areas of the Salt and Verde rivers and lakes such as Lake Pleasant, Roosevelt Lake, and Alamo Lake. These areas are designated on the Phoenix Sectional Aeronautical Map. Special brochures for pilots regarding this advisory can be obtained by calling the Arizona Department of Transportation or the Arizona Game and Fish Department's non-game branch at 623-236-7506.
Help from anglers is especially needed. Fishing line and tackle have killed two nestlings and been found in two-thirds of all bald eagle nests in the state. Every year biologists remove these lethal hazards from nests and/or entangled nestlings. Discard of any fishing line properly in specially marked recycling containers or at fishing stores. Also, use fresh line that isn't old and brittle. Use the correct test line for the fish you are trying to catch. Also, do not cut the line when an undesirable fish is caught and return it to the water with the hook and line attached.
People can help bald eagle research and recovery efforts by reporting any harassment or shooting of bald eagles. Call the Arizona Game and Fish Operation Game Thief Hotline at 800-352-0700 or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement at 480-967-7900.