FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — Fort Drum officials have made preliminary plans to protect America’s “symbol of freedom and liberty.”

The bald eagle.

Officials said that bald eagles have always been known to “visit” Fort Drum, but were first documented nesting within the installation’s training areas n the early summer of 2020.

“We have seen eagles around the Mud Lake area for years, and there has always been stories or sightings of eagles nesting up there, but we could never find a nest,” Chris Dobony, a fish and wildlife biologist in the Environmental Division’s Natural Resources Branch. “Eagles will typically nest in large trees adjacent to water, so this is a great spot for them.”

But, Dobony said that the nest was near a route frequently used for military aircraft, as well as near the shoreline where it could be disturbed by recreational boaters and anglers.

Once an eagle nest is established, the tree or the structure it is on, remains protected until it is no longer in use.

In New York, wintering eagles typically arrive at nesting sites in December and peak in January and February. By mid-March, eagles will begin incubating their eggs.

Due to these factors, officials said in a press release that a preliminary eagle conservation management action plan has been developed by the Environmental Division, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

This included leaving the nest where it stood.

Instead, a flight route was moved a quarter mile west to reduce disturbance to the nest and lessen the potential of a wildlife-aircraft incident.

Dobony said in the press release that incidents between wildlife and aircraft are rare at Fort Drum, but “even one is too many.”

He said a working group was also established to review avoidance techniques and strategies with the 10th CAB and ensure compliance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“As long as we follow that information, we really don’t have to do a whole lot more than what we are currently doing,” he said.

Additional conservation efforts enacted on and around Fort Drum include the placement of buffers around the nest, military training, forest management operations and recreation.

Dobony said that they also advise the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade when aircraft conduct training exercises outside Fort Drum.

10th CAB Standardization Officer Chief Warrant 4 Michael Gazdar said that these conversations were valuable and will allow his pilots to be better “stewards of the environment.”

“Cooperation like this informs every aircrew how to conduct low-level flight operations in an environmentally conscious manner,” he said in the press release. “Communication has been important in order to reduce potential in-flight incidents and mitigate impacts to protected species.”

Officials confirmed that work will continue between the 10th CAB and Environmental Division to develop a list of species and locations to establish off-limit areas for aviation training.