Homer Spit eagles likely to be fed through winter

ORDINANCE: The man who aided her before her death may still toss the fish.

January 21, 2009 

HOMER -- Rather than putting an abrupt stop to feeding the Homer Spit eagles after many winters' feedings by Jean Keene, the city is likely to let Keene's program continue until March 27.

The continued feedings are likely to be enacted in an ordinance that will taken up at the next Homer City Council meeting Monday night. Called an emergency ordinance, it was put forth last week after Keene's death by the full body of council members at Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Novak's request.

Under emergency status, the council can take a vote and pass the ordinance to allow it to go into effect on the same date it is introduced, said City Clerk Jo Johnson. The ordinance grants permission to Keene's friend, Steve Tarola, to continue to feed the nearly 500 eagles that regularly showed up at Keene's home on the Homer Spit each morning.

By Monday, the clerk's office had received about 40 letters, all of them in support of continuing the feeding during the time the original ordinance granted Keene permission to feed the birds. A lot of the letters were from photographers who had booked their travel plans in preparation for photographing the eagles that came to be known as "Jean Keene's eagles" through the years.

Letters came from as far away as Sweden, Colorado, California, Oregon, Ohio and New Jersey, Johnson said.

But in the last week of Keene's life, she had again become the focal point of those who criticized her for supplying the wild eagles with fish. Action was taken days prior to Keene's death to stop her surrogate helper, Tarola, from assisting Keene with the feedings.

Police had become involved, called there by the Alaska Eagle Watch Network. Lee Mayhan said she asked police to watch the situation because she did not believe Tarola had the city's blessing to help Keene.

Keene believed she had permission for the helper, which was her stand in a November interview with the Homer Tribune. She said though her health was weakened and she used a walker, she would continue with Tarola's help.

On Jan. 8, Homer police issued Tarola a ticket, a citation alleging he illegally fed wild animals. It carries a $50 fine.

Tarola called the city, and though it was painful for Keene to ride to town, the two of them visited City Manager Walt Wrede's office. Once they explained the situation, Wrede said, Tarola was allowed to continue.

"We discovered he has been helping her all along by bringing in fish, and Jean couldn't throw like she used to," Wrede said. "That's important because, as they explained, some of the eagles are more dominant and would grab the fish up front. So she needed a helper to throw the fish further away so those less aggressive could get something to eat. We gave permission for Steve to continue to feed as long as he was her primary helper."

Now the idea of allowing Tarola to continue to feed the eagles after Keene's death is both to "ratchet down" the birds' dependency on the food and to use up the remaining thousands of pounds of fish. Keene had purchased $2,000 in herring this winter.

On the whole, Tarola said, Keene didn't focus on the "small core group who wanted to make her life miserable."

"She didn't want to go to battle. She just wanted to feed her eagles and that was her focus," he said.

Councilman Dennis Novak said the emergency ordinance the council will take up was conceived in the days after Keene's death. The ordinance is intended to put to rest any questions about the legality of continuing to feed the eagles through March 27.

All the council members were polled and said they favored the ordinance. An emergency ordinance takes a super majority to pass, Novak explained.

"With an emergency ordinance, there is no public hearing and no second hearing. If a couple of council members didn't want to do it, then it wouldn't work. It's pretty clear to us this needs to happen."

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