Could an Alaska mining project jeopardize Earth’s largest bald eagle gathering? (High Country News)
By Liza Gross
Before dawn, Steve Lewis crosses the snowy flats around Southeast Alaska's Chilkat River. Beyond its braided channel rise the Takhinsha Mountains, obscured by fog in the murky autumn light. A handful of biologists follow Lewis -- a tall, trim 42-year-old with a close-cropped beard -- as he sloshes through riffles to a gravel bar. He builds a perch snare by tying an alder branch to an upright log and rigs it with a spring-loaded loop. "Ready for action," he whispers, hoping to conceal our presence from the Chilkat's chattering denizens.
Dozens of bald eagles, their chirps surprisingly meek, hunker in the river's bare cottonwoods. Between 3,500 and 4,000 migrate each fall to this six-mile stretch of the Chilkat Valley, called the Council Grounds, in the largest gathering of bald eagles on Earth. To protect them, Alaska designated a 48,000-acre area as the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in 1982.
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