The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created by the State of Alaska in June of 1982. The preserve was established to protect and perpetuate the world's largest concentration of Bald Eagles and their critical habitat. It also sustains and protects the natural salmon runs and allows for traditional uses; provided such uses do not adversely affect preserve resources. The Preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers. The boundaries were designated to include only areas important to eagle habitation. Virtually every portion of the preserve is used by eagles at some time during the year.
The river "flats" of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway between miles 18 and 24 are the main viewing area for eagle watchers and considered critical habitat in the preserve. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the availability of spawned-out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter.
The natural phenomena responsible for five miles of open water on the Chilkat River during freezing months is called an "alluvial fan reservoir". The Tsirku fan, which is a fan-shaped accumulation of gravel, rock, sand, and glacial debris, at the confluence of the Tsirku, Kleheni, and Chilkat Rivers acts as a large water reservoir.
During the warmer spring, summer and early fall seasons, water from snow and melted glacial ice flows into the alluvial fan. The fan receives water faster than it can flow out, creating a huge reservoir of water. When winter arrives, cold weather sets in and surrounding waters freeze. However, water in this large reservoir remains from 10 to 20 degrees (F) above surrounding water temperatures. This warmer water "percolates" into the Chilkat River and keeps it from freezing.
Five species of salmon spawn in these and other nearby streams and tributaries. The salmon runs begin in the summer and continue on through late fall or early winter. The salmon die shortly after spawning and it is their carcasses which provide large quantities of food for the eagles. This combination of open water and large amounts of food bring large concentrations of eagles into the Chilkat Valley beginning by early October and lasting through February.
The Bald Eagle is found only on the North American continent. Adult eagles generally weigh between nine and twelve pounds and have a wing span of seven feet. Females are slightly larger than males. Immature eagles are mottled brown and white. The distinct white head and tail of the mature bird is developed between four and six years of age.
Eagles feed mainly on fish, but water fowl, small mammals and carrion supplement their diet, especially when fish are in short supply. Eagles can fly up to 30 mph and can dive at speeds up to 100 mph. Their keen eyesight allows them to spot fish at distances of up to one mile.
Bald eagles mate for life. Courting behavior begins in early April and often involves spectacular aerial displays of eagles diving and locking talons. Eagles lay from one to three eggs, commonly two. The eggs usually hatch between late May and early June after a 34-35 day incubation period. The young usually leave the nest by early September.
The Chilkat Valley is year-round home for between 200 and 400 eagles. Over 80 eagle nests have been observed in the Eagle Preserve. By the time of the Fall Congregations, the resident eagles are through raising their young, although immature eagles may stay near their parents for a year or more. Over 3,000 bald eagles have been counted within the preserve during the Fall Congregation (October through February).
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The following guidelines were developed to insure protection to the eagles and other critical features of the preserve. Please help us protect this area for the eagles and future visitor use.
◇ STAY OFF THE FLATS! This is where the eagles feed. Their energy is better utilized by feeding than by flying away from intruders.
◇ VIEW EAGLES FROM AREA BETWEEN HAINES HIGHWAY AND RIVER. Staying within this area prevents stressful conditions for the eagles. They need their space to roost and feed.
◇ DO NOT DISTRUB THE FISH IN ANY WAY. Fish are the eagles' food. Please leave all fish and fish carcasses where nature has placed them.
◇ STOP AND PARK ONLY IN DESIGNATED TURNOUTS. The road is narrow and has many curves. Watch for traffic at all times. Never stop on the roadway. Do not set up tripods on the road.
The use and discharge of weapons for the purpose of lawful hunting or trapping is allowed in the preserve, except within one-half mile of a developed facility.
Fireworks are prohibited.
Critical habitat area is closed to aircraft landing.
No person may disturb, damage, deface or remove cultural, archaeological or historical materials. No person may damage or remove natural objects including rocks and minerals, except edible plants and roots that may be gathered for personal use.
Normal animal waste discarded from lawful hunting, trapping, or fishing must not be left within 100 feet of a trail, road, or a developed facility. Fish waste should be discarded in the waters from which they were taken.
The Bald Eagle Protection Act, a federal law, states that it is unlawful to possess, sell, barter or transport bald eagles (dead, alive, or any part of), nests or eggs. Violations of this law can result in a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a two-year imprisonment.
Permits are required for certain activities within the preserve. Any commercial activity including any form of guiding, transportation services, or sale of any goods or services within the boundaries of the preserve requires a commercial use permit. A list of permitted operators is available at the state parks office.
Special use permits are required for activities that may affect the environment of the preserve. A partial list of activities include scientific research, promotional activities, construction of facilities or structures of any kind, and camping longer than 15 days.
Persons having questions concerning permits or needing assistance in determining if permits are required for certain activities should contact the state park office listed below.
The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is managed by the State of Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation with the assistance of the 13-member Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council. See a map of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
For more information:
Alaska State Park
Haines Ranger Station