(David Hancock Report to FVBEF, HWF and anyone ‘listening or reading’!)

2018 was a record for early numbers of eagles on the Harrison-Chehalis Flats – about 3227 on Saturday and 3300+ on Sunday – and an even bigger record for the number of visitors.  I suspect we had well over 5000 people on the two days.  More people passed through Harrison Mills this past weekend than during any weekend at the height of the Gold Rush.  A few canoes, no paddle-wheelers, but miles and miles of cars – total chaos.

Our FVBE Festival Group does hold a post-festival meeting every year to discuss what went well and what could be done better, and this note will be my contribution to our agenda.  The big variables, the ones we have literally no control over but that we have to attempt to give explanations on so the public, participants and sponsors, have some understanding, of the impacts of weather and then of course the availability of salmon carcasses on the riverbanks.  This year it was the perfect ‘good’ storm.  Each day, starting with Friday Nov. 16 and through the weekend, the weather held dry and sunny and the Harrison River dropped about 14 inches each day, exposing more bars and banks and salmon carcasses for the eagles. It was a wonderful weekend for all.

BACKGROUND:  Our FVBEF committee has a wonderful all-volunteer organization that is both experienced and functions very well.  What happened this year was (i) perfect weather, (ii) near perfect – at least good – water conditions & quantity of available fish carcasses, and (iii) a reasonably good outreach to media and associated conservation organizations = our PR.  The result was record numbers of eagles and viewers – perhaps more viewers than we had been prepared to handle.

Here is my list of:  The Good and the Improvable

So, the record numbers of viewers are good, and the eagle population numbers are holding is also wonderful, but here are some thoughts on where we ‘need improving’!

1.  CROWD CONTROL

A personal experience:  Saturday produced some valid public criticism.  We had too many visitors for the number of services we were offering.  Some photographers, “The advance Bazooka Force,” the Nikon-Cannon Howitzer Brigade and their forward rushing 400 to 800 mm Division, drove every eagle off the viewing flats within minutes. Yes, we had a number of volunteers and helpers parking cars etc. but only a few “Keep Off the Flats Signs” bordering the Flats – and no authoritative figures draped in ‘Orange’ were keeping the impolite bullies off the flats and preventing them from driving the eagles to the far trees where few viewers could appreciate them.

Historical Note:  The Harrison Rangers

About 10 years ago Tom Cadieux and I set up a group of Volunteer Rangers, we had a couple of pre-festival meetings with them to outline the key eagle biology but more importantly define acceptable shoreline etiquette for viewers and particularly for photographers – and we issued the Rangers “Authoritative Orange Vests.”  This being Canada, none were allowed to carry guns on their hips.  This worked incredibly well for about two seasons and then I think our ‘major-domo’, the coordinator, moved away and without a coalescing force the Rangers dissolved.  Boy did we need them this weekend.  Tom, where are you?  We need to do this again!

Then, at our HWF Saturday Night dinner our group discussed the ‘bad etiquette displayed by so many’ and we evolved a new “Harrison Guard Dog Brigade.” Initially we only enlisted a Pit Bull and a Russian Wolfhound – but they absolutely changed the attitude along the river on Sunday.  The shorter Pit Bull kept rude intruders behind the tapes, the long-legged coursing Wolfhound ran down those who had circumvented the barriers farther down river. Then barely out of their cages, these two were joined by an elegant little scoundrel – a feisty Harrison Terrier – a local breed that proved to have both bark and bite.  It is obvious, the old Harrison Rangers has evolved into the new Harrison Hound & Ranger Patrol.  Of course, they were dressed in salmon orange vests!  Some have suggested they wear ‘eagle talons’ but that may be a bit much.

By Sunday the Pit-bull, Russian Wolfhound and the Harrison Terrier had the shoreline under control all around the Sandpiper Observatory.  The eagles came in to feed and stayed and the public kept back and had a show of a lifetime – all day long.  Exquisite.

Note to FVBEF:

(a) We definitely need a Lead Keeper to coordinate the Harrison Hound & Ranger Patrol.

(b) Can we solicit additional support from FLNR/WMA, CWS, and Local Governments for education of the public and for posting concerns around the Reserve??

Thoughts for WMA Management:

Public Educational Outreach:  Developing “Access Etiquette”! 

The Harrison WMA has been largely established to offer protection of an incredibly valuable resource from industrial and human misuse.  Today we are in need of some extra help in saving this area from being loved to death by photographers, kayakers, dog walkers, and just plain uncaring or uninformed individuals, including fishermen and hunters. So, what can be done?  It appears we had a better public outreach when we had the Community-based Chehalis Flats Salmon & Bald Eagle Reserve – without illegal notices.  The legal entities now need to step forward to develop some Reserve Etiquette Plans.  Let’s meet.

Actions and reactions, opportunities and responsibilities evolve.

It is hard to begin a simple discussion of a resource like the Harrison without noting the historic nature of this concern.  Part of the land I treaded this weekend while viewing eagles and salmon had been walked and lived on continuously minimally for at least 10,600 years.  That means that many people had tried to preserve, fought on and fished and played on these lands “successfully” for over 10,550 years.  The Sts’ailes, the new communities along the river, the many businesses dependent upon these waters and the multitude of organizations who have grown up to insure their very continuance will not accept that we supervise the end of this wondrous creation.  So, what is the solution?

However, now we need further support of the Federal government who acknowledged parts of this area as an ‘Important Bird Area’, the Provincial government who extended support for an area now designated a ‘Wildlife Management Area’ and all the local Governments and NGOs who daily interact in this valley need to ‘up their game.’  Super Natural British Columbia only remains so when we respect it.

I propose we have a meeting to set up some discussions on “Access Etiquette.”

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2.  VIEWING & EXHIBITION SITES – A REVIEW

I am hardly the one to comment on these as I barely have time on the days of the Festival to do any in depth examination.  However, some personal thoughts on the 4 sites I visit – starting in the north.

A.  Tapadera: This is not just a wonderful viewing site for the entire north part of the Chehalis Flats but where OWL and Sonsie reside to constantly charm visitors seeing a wonderfully tame bald eagle up so close.  This is a private recreation community that gives up an entire weekend to eagle-lovers, turns over their wonderful Recreation Hall for our lectures, and provides a hot fire and even hotter dogs to hungry viewers.  I can only think of one improvement – more thanks and acknowledgement to them.

B.  Sandpiper Golf Course: The Home of the World’s Biggest & Best Bald Eagle Viewing Site but also from where you can see more eagles than any place in the world.  Totally awesome.  Here is also the home of our HWF Live Streaming CAM – the Harrison Mills Bald Eagle Nest – followed from around the world during the breeding season and this weekend visited by many international guests.  My suggestions are that we need to get them better “River-side Protection” – more members of our Harrison Hound & Ranger Patrol to protect their shores from irresponsible photographers.  And seek some additional port-o-potties.  The break in tradition of ‘paid parking’ only seemed to cause more chaos on Morris Valley Road.

C.  Kilby – Harrison Mills Hall: our Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival Headquarters & Display Site:  This is wonderfully central but a ‘bit small’ when we get the numbers we had this year. Suggestion:  please KILBY build a 300-seat hall with appropriate parking?  A highlight of the site that I got to partake in was the “absolutely marvelous” fried bannock at the First Nations Mobile Truck – totally jammy!  The hall’s small size means we had to restrict our displays to NGO’s sadly eliminating related commercial outreach – though Kilby Museum & Café wonderfully covered this.

D.  Kilby Museum & Café: Today eagles are the gold of Kilby.  I certainly have enjoyed many hours checking out the incredible history of early BC in the Kilby Museum when it was the jumping off place for going to the Gold Rush towns of the Caribou during the 1864+ – Kilby is still a ‘must see’ site at the junction of the Fraser and the Harrison – now as home of the world’s largest gathering of bald eagles – and wonderful stew, home-made apple pie etc. – or where you can buy a wonderful selection of Hancock House historical titles!  Kilby is also the jumping off site for the incredible Fraser River Safari Tours – probably the best way to see 3000 or more eagles in an hour’s picturesque ride.

E.  Other sites: I want others to add their own comments – on other sites and on the sites I have visited and had some in-put.  I state the above to stimulate discussion.

David Hancock
Hancock Wildlife Foundation
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival Committee

(For more details on this incredibly unique area see:  The Harrison-Chehalis Wildlife Management Area, the Harrison Salmon Stronghold, the Chehalis Important Bird Area and the Fraser River Bald Eagle Festival or the live streaming eagle & salmon cams of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation.)

PR Questions:  David Hancock can be reached at:  604-761-1025

1.  Where does 2018 fit into the big picture of eagles? Are they increasing or decreasing?

2.  Can Canada’s most productive salmon river and the world’s largest gathering of bald eagles be both preserved and be effectively utilized by fishermen and naturalists?

3.  Can more taped off areas and our Pit Bull Brigade keep the Chehalis Eagles Safe?

4.  How is the health of our rivers, our salmon, eagles and orcas related?

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