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Eagles nest stops St. Johns County developments

SJC Eagles
Rhonda Lovett
Two bald eagle perch near a proposed St. Johns County development.

The eagle's nest in St. Johns County is safe for now.

County commissioners voted down a proposal Tuesday that would have waived rules protecting bald eagles to allow two developments to go forward.

While the two projects initially cleared environmental inspections, local birders discovered a bald eagle's nest nearby in December. 

It's the first nest to be recorded in the area, according to county environmental officials.

James Hill with the St. Johns Audubon Society asked the commission Tuesday to reject the developer’s proposal to build to within 300 feet of the eagles.

“These eagles decided to nest in an undeveloped area for a reason. So there is no indication that they can tolerate any construction or human activity near their nest,” he said.

While federal guidelines require only a 330-foot buffer zone around a nest, county ordinances mandate at least 1,500 feet of protection around the base of the nest tree. That includes a primary zone of undisturbed space within the first 750 feet and a secondary monitored zone for another 750 feet.

The ordinance allows for an alternate management plan to be proposed by the developer, as long as it is equal to or better than the standard protection. While the alternative mitigation plan for these eagles was found to satisfy the technical definition of "equal or better," it didn't sway county leaders.

The commission rejected the proposal in a 4-1 vote.

The national bird, once critically endangered, was upgraded to threatened status in the 1990s, then removed from that list in 2007.

Florida took the bald eagle off of its statewide threatened status the following year. The bald eagle is considered one of the great success stories of conservation in America.