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Concerns mount over large bird nest near Fufeng location as site preparation continues

According to Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, the tree is not on Fufeng’s land, but on a city right-of-way for future infrastructure development.

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A large nest is shown in the upper branches of a cottonwood tree on the east side of the site of the proposed Fufeng wet corn milling plant north of Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – As site preparation continues at the site of the proposed Fufeng wet corn mill, opponents of the controversial factory are concerned about the fate of a large bird nest in a nearby grove of trees.

Construction preparation work at the site, located in the north end of Grand Forks, started in September. Though construction on Fufeng-specific infrastructure by the city of Grand Forks is on pause pending a review by the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, Fufeng Group can still work on the site because it owns the land.

Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, told the Herald in September that the preparation being done at the site consists of building a temporary access road and a laid-down area for construction material.

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Grand Forks leaders expressed confusion and frustration over the Republican senators’ decision to oppose the project before the conclusion of a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Around the same time in September, residents near the Fufeng site noticed a large bird nest in a cottonwood tree southeast of the site. Many, including Todd Leake, president of the North Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club and an area farmer, speculate it is an eagle’s nest. Leake says historically, eagles have nested in trees on the north end of Grand Forks.

“Many people are aware of this up there because they work, they live there and they see the eagles on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s well known that there’s a population of them there.”

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According to Todd Feland, Grand Forks city administrator, the tree is not on Fufeng’s land, but on a city right-of-way for future infrastructure development.

“The work that Fufeng is doing on their side – regarding the temporary road, the laydown area and the scrubbing of their trees – that doesn’t relate to this specific tree that is being referenced by Mr. Leake,” said Feland.

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A construction crew clears trees on the southeast corner of the Fufeng wet corn milling plant north of Grand Forks Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

But, says Leake, the work on Fufeng’s land, which has included tearing down trees, could still be too close if it is indeed an eagle’s nest. Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, enacted in 1940, it is illegal to wound, kill, capture or disturb bald and golden eagles. For construction, the act determines that activity should be limited within 660 feet of a nest to avoid disturbing eagles.

With the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in mind, Leake and nearby residents alerted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services about the nest. Leake says Gowan Construction, the company doing site preparation, also was alerted of the nest.

Feland said Fufeng USA communicated with the city that a consultant had been contracted to assess the nest and identify what kind of bird made it. Both Feland and Leake said this assessment determined the nest belonged to a red-tailed hawk.

“Our understanding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and also a consultant that was hired by Fufeng USA, is that it is not an active eagle’s nest,” said Feland. “From the word that I have, it was a hawk’s nest that was no longer being used by a hawk.”

Feland did not know who or what entity was contracted by Fufeng to assess the nest. While some speculated UND performed the assessment, UND Spokesman David Dodds said UND was not formally involved.

“Representatives of UND Biology were contacted about the nest referenced, however there wasn’t anyone immediately present with the proper expertise in this area to assess the matter," he wrote in an email on Thursday. "UND Biology did have a temporary instructor talk briefly with the contractor on the project, but no formal assessment was done nor has UND Biology been contracted to do any formal assessment, to date.”

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Fufeng USA did not respond to an email regarding the assessment.

Leake still believes the nest belongs to a bald eagle. Though the nest is smaller than some eagle nests, Leake says nests often start small and grow larger as eagles add to them over the course of multiple years.

“I think they’ve made an error, in my opinion,” said Leake. “This isn’t rocket science — this is an eagle’s nest.”

Now, he’s asking U.S. Fish and Wildlife to conduct another assessment, using a team independent of the state of North Dakota. Moving forward, he hopes the grove of trees containing the nest will stay standing.

“The trees don’t have to be torn down,” said Leake. “I would like to see them voluntarily, Fufeng USA that is, leave the trees because they are used by bald eagles.”

At this point, said Feland, the city has not determined which trees will be affected by future infrastructure developments in the right-of-way. Any city work on the right-of-way will likely start next year.

“Before we make any final moves on what we want to do on the city right-of-way regarding utility development and infrastructure development, we’ll make sure we survey the area in advance,” said Feland.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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