Editorial | The eagle tree

The story about a tree along East Mercer Way is a cautionary tale about the conflict between private property rights and preserving the environment. It embodies many of the values held by Islanders: the importance of preserving the nature of our Island, the right to use our property as we wish, and the right to live in a safe and secure home.

The towering Douglas fir tree, which is perhaps as much as 300 years old, has an established bald eagle nest. Neighbors nearby are thrilled that the eagles nest there. On the other hand, the land on which the tree sits is owned by people who want to build. Experts differ as to whether building near the tree will injure and eventually kill it. If the tree is harmed, the nest would be lost. But perhaps what is more alarming is that an injured tree could fall on a house nearby.

Who is in charge of the tree? The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has designated the tree as protected and must approve any building near the tree. The state agency has ascertained that building can go ahead. With that decision in hand, the landowner has applied for a building permit with the city. The city is following the law, officials say, and will issue the permit. Neighbors, however, remain concerned about the health of the tree and the safety of their homes and families. City Councilman Mike Grady has taken steps to find out what alternatives remain for protecting the tree.

Any life entails risk — whether or not it is from a tree falling or a poor investment in land that may or may not be buildable. Eagles are no longer endangered but are protected. There are several nests on the Island and nearby around Lake Washington.

Property ownership is perhaps the most protected right in the Constitution of the United States. Yet building that dream home at the expense of the safety or rights of others is not protected. Whose rights are more important here? And what of the eagles — who will speak for them?

The best outcome would be for someone to buy the land to preserve it as open space. A crazy dream. In the meantime, all parties must cooperate to protect the tree.

Despite the less-than-cheery outcomes of many stories such as this, there are glimmers of hope.

To those who say the media rarely reports good news, we can answer: sometimes. Local television stations, KIRO and KING, Fox News out of Omaha, and international news network, CNN, just have. Those news outlets picked up our story about Islander vet Ted Mogil and his new friend, 12-year-old Wil Beach. In Omaha, Beach found a lost prayer book that belonged to Mogil during World War II. Beach made it a point to find its owner. Mogil and his family are happy to have such a valuable item returned. And they have made new friends in Omaha.

It is a mitzvah, a blessing.

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