A pair of amorous bald eagles has returned to Lake Natoma. Here’s the problem that’s causing

A pair of bald eagles has returned to nest in the pines above Lake Natoma – good news for nature lovers and bird watchers, but bad for bicyclists.

The birds are setting up winter camp near where a 2017 rock slide buried the recreation trail on the northwest flank of Lake Natoma in the Arden Bluff area of Orangevale.

Their presence has made it more difficult to stabilize the slumping bluff and reopen the trail for runners and bikers, California State Parks officials say. The lack of progress has prompted complaints from cyclists who have been waiting two years for a fix on the popular and scenic section of the trail that runs for 30-plus miles from downtown Sacramento to Folsom Lake.

“As bald eagles are a federally protected species, the geo-technical firm was unable to complete its assessment until the eagles vacated the area, which occurred in late July 2018,” Parks superintendent Rich Preston said in an update this week. “There could be additional project delays as repair work that could impact the eagles cannot be conducted while they are present.”

The state will do environmental reviews for the project this winter, including an assessment of how to do the work without disturbing the eagles. Preston said the state likely will not know until early next year what steps it will need to take, and on what timetable, to get the trail back open.

Preston said he is guessing work can be started and finished late next year, meaning the rock slide will have resulted in a a nearly three-year closure. There is a second trail in place on the south side of the lake.

Preston said he doesn’t begrudge the birds. In fact, he’s pleased that they’ve come back.

The eagle pair have used the area for nesting since 2016, and hatched two offspring there this spring. If the birds succeed in producing offspring again this year, they likely will stay at the nest until June or July, when the fledglings will be strong enough to leave the nest, Preston said.

“The eagles are very cool features here in the park, and despite them setting us back, it is amazing to have them here,” he said, “and we would like to give them the room they need to reproduce and grow their population.”