The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote tomorrow on a controversial housing project in Big Bear that could affect the lake’s famous bald eagles.
Sandy Steers is the Executive Director of Friends of Big Bear Valley. They run the nest camera where viewers can watch Big Bear Lake’s famous bald eagles, Shadow and Jackie.
Steers worries that a proposed 50-lot luxury housing site less than a mile away from Shadow and Jackie’s nest could “evict” the eagles from their home.
Steers: “The proposal is in an area that right now is used for foraging by the bald eagles that nest less than a mile from this site, and the whole site has not been studied for how the eagles use it since 2010. And the eagles started nesting here in 2012, so none of the impacts that are, that would be impacting this particular pair of bald eagles and their nesting behavior has been taken into account and when they did the study in 2010, already that environmental document said that it would significant detrimental impact to the bald eagles that cannot be mitigated. So now the impact would be even worse, and they haven't studied that, but in addition the county is citing the need for housing as an overriding circumstance. That they're saying that would make any impact to the bald eagles not count, because there's such great need for housing.”
But Steers doesn’t buy the housing argument. She says there’s already enough housing in the Big Bear valley.
Steers: “Right now in the valley we have over 600 homes for sale, some of them have been on the market for over a year, there's plenty of houses for sale in Fawnskin, there's still lots available in Fawnskin. People are complaining that there's so many houses and that they aren't being able to sell their houses, so I don't think there's a need for houses. And these would be luxury-style house sites with a private marina, that's not the kind of housing that we're in a short supply of.”
Steers says that she believes all the construction would force the eagles to relocate.
Steers: “For the eagles it's a big deal to have to move to another place because they've already built this nest over the past seven or eight years. And so they have all that material there and all they have to do is bring in a little bit each year to kind of re-bond. And so it's all prepared, where if they go somewhere else they have to start all over and that takes their energy and takes their wherewithal to find a new place to nest, and to start all over again. From our perspective it's also the first time that the bald eagles have nested in this area, and in this valley at all, so having the bald eagles have to move when they finally found a good place that they can nest, a quiet shoreline, then we lose something because we lose the ability to have them here to observe, it's like saying that our nature is getting run down so much that the eagles don't even want to be here. So that's harmful to everybody.”
Steers says there’s another risk to building all that housing – fire risk.
Steers: “We were rated after the Paradise fire, USA Today did a ranking of all the places in the state of rating the evacuation routes based on number of people and how easy it is to get out and the size of the road and everything like that. And we came up in the top 1 percent worst, most hazardous evacuation routes, least adequate evacuation routes in the state. And so to add anything to that, I mean it's a very narrow highway, two-lane highway that's curvy, and it's only 25 miles an hour in that area because it's so dangerous already and there's lots of accidents. So adding to that, plus this project is along the national forest boundary, and studies have shown that adding housing density along a national forest boundary increases the fire risk in the whole area. So you're increasing fire risk and then just adding more people on the road if there was a fire or an evacuation, and somebody said well it's just 50 houses, how can that add to it, but when it's already sub-standard and deficient, even adding one makes it worse.”
Developers of the housing project have said any negative impacts to wildlife are exaggerated.
Update: According to county spokesman David Wert, the Board of Supervisors has postponed the vote. No new date has been set yet.