USACE has eyes to the skies in habitat rehabilitation
by Matt Shinall
Mar 25, 2013 | 2346 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
USACE Natural Resource Specialist Jonathan Wise moves one of the Osprey platforms created by recycling two Army cots and old walkways to courtesy docks.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
USACE Natural Resource Specialist Jonathan Wise moves one of the Osprey platforms created by recycling two Army cots and old walkways to courtesy docks. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
This summer, keep an eye out for birds of prey hunting above the waters of Lake Allatoona. An increasing osprey population at local bodies of water is, in part, due to the habitat rehabilitation efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Osprey, one North America’s largest raptors, hunt fish by swooping down to pluck their prey from the water. To do this, the osprey chooses its nesting ground with care — preferring a lone, tall, dead tree rooted well within the waterline of a body of water where its field of view is unimpaired and its young will not be threatened by predators on the ground.

For rangers on Lake Allatoona, the very nature of ospreys presented a challenge. Due to the lake’s age and construction, trees cannot readily be found standing beyond the water’s edge. To combat this, a project was taken up more than a decade ago to plant nesting platforms in the lake.

Today, the initial efforts of the USACE are evident in the birds that hunt and nest over Lake Allatoona every year. The six nesting platforms from the first project are now occupied each spring when osprey return to breed and their own nesting sites can be seen in Allatoona WMA and one brave bird has built its home atop Bethany Bridge at the entrance to Red Top Mountain State Park.

“The six that we had are all being used,” said USACE Natural Resource Specialist Jonathon Wise. “So we just saw the need that there could be some more. I think with the amount of ospreys we’re getting around here now, it’ll be good to start it back up because every year there’s a bird on all of the platforms.

“Ospreys aren’t considered threatened or endangered, but back in the ’50s and ’60s they went through the same population decline as the eagle because of the DDT and the thinning of the shells, and they have had a great population rebound in the coastal areas. But, here in the inland, putting up nesting platforms is one of the best conservation techniques. That’s really how they rebounded in this area after the banning of DDT.”

When the need arose, USACE rangers knew what to do because a successful program had already been established, but since the first nesting platform project took place, a deep and lingering recession has taken a toll on the budgets of governmental agencies. The question became one of means rather than ability, but rangers at the Lake Allatoona field office off Spur 20 in Cartersville came up with a creative way to repurpose existing supplies as opposed to purchasing costly aluminum as was done in the past.

“When we were thinking of putting up new osprey nests, we had to come up with what we could use because we’re limited by shrinking budgets,” Wise said. “We couldn’t go out and buy aluminum. We could have looked for donations, but then someone had the idea of using the beds we were about the throw away from the hydropower station. They’re probably ’50s- or ’60s-era bed frames, they’re real heavy metal, and they were just going to the junk pile.

“So we decided that would work for the frame and then we needed something for the bottom. We wanted something that would drain, but would be solid enough to hold the sticks they use. So we just went out our scrap pile to see what we had.”

The result was enough material to create up to 12 new platforms using U.S. Army cots from the ’50s and scrap from retired metal courtesy docks. The cots that will soon be home to osprey were once housed within Allatoona Dam for hydro-electric workers in case of emergency situations necessitating overnight shifts.

Once the platforms were built, rangers faced another obstacle — weather resistance. Aluminum was chosen for the initial project for its lifespan in harsh conditions, whereas 60-year-old steel cots pose a new challenge. The solution, however, was found in the services of a Cartersville business owner. Steel Materials owner Steve Cowart just so happens to be a lake enthusiast and outdoorsman and was glad to offer his services to the corps.

“We cleaned and powder-coated the platforms,” Cowart said. “It’s a baked-on finish that will stop rust and make it last a whole lot longer. Paint will peel off in a year or two and you’d have to repaint them, but powder coating should last eight to 10 years.

“I just wanted to help out. I just think anytime you can help the Corps of Engineers or anything like that it’s good for the community and the environment.”

The first powder-coated recycled nesting platforms went up earlier this month. Two more were scheduled to be erected Friday, but the threat of foul weather saw those plans postponed. The only problem is that as water levels rise for spring recreational use, the optimal locations for placement become submerged; therefore, the next round of platforms may not see use until 2014.

With the completion of this month’s platforms, the total created nesting habitats rose to eight, and when the next round of platforms are erected, Georgia Power will be there to help. Georgia Power partnered with the USACE in the first nesting project and continues to help by donating utility poles as well as the equipment and labor to install them.

“We were approached by the corps to see if we would be able to help by putting in some wood poles because there’s a lack of nesting habitat for the ospreys in Lake Allatoona because it’s such an old lake it doesn’t have any standing timber in the water and they like those locations,” said Georgia Power Environmental Supervisor Jim Candler. “We actually did a project with the corps about 10 years ago that was very successful. We put up the poles and they made the platforms, and now all the ones we put up back then are being used.

“Sometimes they’ll nest on our transmission towers near the lake or communication towers. They’re not endangered, but they were declining in number up until several years ago and I think things like this — helping them get nesting areas out in lakes — have helped them come back.”