A bald eagle was perched on a piling in Cougar Bay, eating a midmorning snack, when Ed Haglund slowly approached in a tugboat. The eagle flew off as the tug drew near, the snack still clutched in its talons.
Since moving to the area nearly 40 years ago, Haglund has observed many such scenes in the shallow bay at the northwest corner of Lake Coeur d’Alene
The retired tug operator is president of the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association. Last week, the nonprofit group sued the Idaho Department of Lands over a plan to remove pilings and floating log booms that encircle about 150 acres of tranquil water in the bay.
“It’s really a shame that they want to remove all of the pilings,” Haglund said.
The log structures provide eagle and osprey habitat, he said, and help enforce a no-wake zone for boaters that prevents shoreline erosion.
But the Idaho Department of Lands takes a dim view of the booms and pilings – relics from the days when bundles of logs headed for sawmills were floated down the St. Joe River, herded across the lake and stored at Cougar Bay.
Many of the pilings are in poor condition, said Carl Washburn, a navigable waters specialist for the Lands Department. Some have broken off at the water line, creating hazards for unwary boaters, he said.
In September, part of a log boom tore loose, temporarily blocking boat traffic in nearby Casco Bay. The Department of Lands is trying to get a former tug operator – Foss Maritime of Portland – to remove the log structures in Cougar Bay.
In correspondence, Washburn said it’s an opportunity to have the work done at no cost to the public and return the bay to “pre-settlement” conditions. An attorney for Foss Maritime could not be reached for comment.
The Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association includes Haglund, his wife, Diane, and neighboring families. The nonprofit association doesn’t object to removing other pilings and log booms at the outflow of Lake Coeur d’Alene or in the Spokane River – work that is already under way, said Scott Reed, the association’s attorney.
But the group sees value in retaining Cougar Bay’s log structures and is willing to take responsibility for their upkeep, he said. Over the past 90 years, the log structures have helped preserve the bay as a quiet refuge for waterfowl and nonmotorized boating, Reed said.
About 20 pairs of ospreys nest on the pilings, which also provide resting, socializing and stalking spots for herons, cormorants, pelicans and ducks, association members say.
Members also played up the log structures’ historic and cultural value in a permit application to the Department of Lands.
“The booms and pilings are an increasingly rare example of the logging roots of our community,” association members wrote in the application. “Maintaining them will preserve a reminder to all who visit Cougar Bay of where we came from as a community.”
Last summer, Washburn turned down the nonprofit’s application for a permit to keep the log structures in Cougar Bay. In the denial letter, he said the group didn’t have the standing to apply for the permit needed for waterway improvements for navigation, wildlife habitat or recreational use.
In the recent lawsuit, Reed disputed that assertion. He cited examples of other nonprofits that have received such permits.
Community views on keeping the log structures are mixed. Kootenai Environmental Alliance has sided with the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, supporting the pilings for wildlife habitat and reinforcement of the bay’s no-wake zone.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials, however, said removing the pilings and booms shouldn’t affect Lake Coeur d’Alene’s osprey population.
“There are lots of osprey nesting sites around the lake,” said Chip Corsi, the agency’s regional manager. “It won’t have a negative effect on the overall osprey population, but it may change viewing opportunities. When ospreys are out on a piling, they’re easy to see.”
Kootenai County’s Parks and Waterways Department has weighed in as well. Director Nick Snyder said he supports removing Cougar Bay’s pilings and booms, which he said are navigational hazards.
The department plans to install floating buoys across Cougar Bay’s entrance, he said, alerting boaters that they’re entering a no-wake zone.