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Homer eagles will be beggars no more

Tom Kizzia

HOMER -- The feeding program that draws hundreds of bald eagles to the Homer Spit every winter will be phased out under an ordinance adopted Monday by the Homer City Council.

The new law, passed 4-2, bars deliberate feeding of eagles, ravens, crows and gulls beginning next winter. It carves out an exception for 82-year-old Jean Keene, the famous "Eagle Lady" who has been feeding eagles on the Spit for 25 years. But even Keene's program must end by 2010, the City Council ruled.

"We're still going to have eagles in Homer," said Councilman Val McLay, who consulted with Keene in working out the final compromise.

The first groups to be affected will be guided photography "safaris" that come to Homer in late winter and sometimes draw eagles into wide-angle camera range with baitfish. McLay said he delayed enforcement of the ordinance so that photographers with reservations could still come this year.

"You don't have to have hundreds of eagles to take a photograph," said McLay, who heard protests from out-of-town photographers about his proposal. "If these photographers are so damn bad that they couldn't get a picture of an eagle, then they need to be better photographers."

He said some photos taken of Homer Spit eagles were being dishonestly marketed as photos of eagles in the wild.

The city acted one month after the state Board of Game declined to regulate the practice of eagle feeding. The state regulators said the problems were local and the jurisdiction federal.

Opposition in Homer to eagle feeding has grown in recent years. Critics say the surly-looking mobs of eagles waiting for handouts are unnatural and demeaning. They say the crowding is unhealthy for the eagles -- not to mention for bite-sized pets and birds such as sea ducks.

Government biologists generally frowned on the practice but stopped short of calling for regulation.

Supporters called the eagle feeding a novelty whose alleged harms have never been studied, much less proved. They also pointed to the small economic boost to winter tourism. They lavished much of their support on Keene, a local icon who lives on the end of the Spit.

But even Keene had expressed reservations about the recent spread of eagle feeding.

The City Council's action was praised Tuesday by the anti-feeding Alaska Eagle Watch Network, which called it "a compromise that will limit and monitor the commercialization of bald eagle feeding."

McLay, a lifelong Homer resident, said he was moved to take action in part by hearing that state transportation officials may frown on airport upgrades if eagles are being attracted to the area. He also said he was aggravated by the flocks of crows and ravens that he said were drawn to town by the eagle feeding.

"The crows are worse than eagles or ravens about getting into the garbage," he said.

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Reporter Tom Kizzia can be reached at tkizzia@adn.com or in Homer at 907-235-4244.

Enough eagles (05-02-2004)
State may ban feeding of eagles (12-25-2005)
Information on eagles (Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation)
State hugs sideline in eagle feeding (01-31-2006)
Board of Game Web site (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
By TOM KIZZIA
Anchorage Daily News