PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A group of Sevier County wildlife conservationists turned their concerns to growing wildfires this week. Many were on high alert Thursday as a fire burned through dozens of acres in Pigeon Forge.
“We were pretty stressed there for a few minutes. Particularly when Parkside Resort had to evacuate,” said American Eagle Foundation Executive Director Jessica Hall.
Hall reports all the birds are safe at American Eagle Foundation.
“Wears Valley (Volunteer Fire) acted in a very timely manner and they kept us informed throughout the whole way so certainly not as stressed as we were in 2016,” she said.
Hall says while Thursday’s fire is unfortunate, it gave her and her team a chance to put their updated crisis and evacuation protocol to use. Which has been strengthened since the devastating fires in 2016.
“That fire was less than six miles away from us and smoke is extremely harmful to the avian lung sacs of raptors, bald eagles, and other birds of prey,” Hall said.
Hall calls Thursday a practice round for staff at the foundation and is thankful. Right now, they’re taking care of about 120 birds.
“Our birds are trained to do a maneuver called ‘step up’ so what they do is actually step up to one of the avian handlers’ gloves,” she said. “We then crate them in specially designed crates, shut them in, and we have several vans where we pack the crates and transfer them to a safe location.”
Currently, it is wildfire season in Tennessee but Hall says fires are not the only thing the foundation is concerned about. It’s also hunting season.
“A lot of times lead shot is leftover in carcasses that bald eagles might look to as an easy meal and then ingest and therefore lead poisoning occurs,” she said.
A new study shows nearly half of America’s bald eagles suffer lead poisoning. According to Hall, a grain-sized amount of lead can kill a bald eagle.
“We’re a friend of the sportsman but we want our sportsman to use alternative shot like steel shot instead of lead,” Hall said. “And then we want our fishermen to recycle their monofilaments so that it doesn’t end up ingested by a bald eagle that’s in the nest.”