- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Driving will be easier on a new highway bypass planned through the middle of a golf course in southeast Reno but critics say there may be fewer eagles.

Neighbors of Rosewood Golf Course say two of the trees slated to be cut down to make way for the Southeast Connector have become long-time favorite roosting spots for bald eagles each winter and spring in the wetlands on the southeast side of town.

The six-lane roadway eventually will connect east Sparks to southeast Reno near another recently constructed bypass that speeds traffic flow between Reno and Carson City to the south.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the trees are not considered protected habitat because the eagles don’t nest there.

But Kimberly Rhodemyre of Hidden Valley and others argue that the road could be rerouted to spare the most important trees.

“One tree, we call it the eagle tree, that one is literally the only tall tree that is right on the pond (at the golf course),” she told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/kwdtca2 ). “The eagles come very year and they stand on that tree and they fish.”

Washoe County’s Regional Transportation Commission in charge of the project plans to use the wood from both trees to create wildlife habitat islands on the south end of the project.

“The trees will be recycled,” RTC director Lee Gibson said.

While the project will result in the loss of two existing trees, the RTC plans to plant 500 cottonwoods along the route, Gibson said.

Rhodemyre said the young trees won’t help draw the birds to the area.

“Bald eagles need really tall trees,” she said. “These are the only two trees in the project area that are tall enough for them to sit and hunt from.”

The Regional Transportation Commission launched the first phase of the $250 million project a year ago and had hoped to begin work before the end of last year on the second phase of the 5-mile Southeast Connector around the metro area’s biggest interchange where U.S. Interstate 80 meets I-580 and U.S. Highway 395.

No start date has been set for construction of Phase 2 - a 4.5-mile stretch which cannot begin until the RTC obtains a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That permit was expected to be issued in November but remains hung up in the process.

Gibson said the agency is still awaiting comment from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe and the State Historic Preservation Office.

The Fish and Wildlife Service first notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in September 2013 that they had established that the wetland area is known to support “respectable numbers and species of nesting birds,” including a golden eagle population supported in the Virginia range within 4 miles of the project.

The agency recommended the development of an expanded bird monitoring plan before the construction moves forward.

The RTC responded with the draft of a “avian and bat protection plan” last week that only “inactive nests” with no eggs or young birds will be removed.

“Inactive nests for non-listed species that are outside of active construction areas and will not be directly affected by construction activities will not be removed,” the report said.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

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