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Homer trooper springs bald eagle caught in a trap

Naomi KloudaHomer Tribune
Courtesy Rosanne Klouda

HOMER -- A bald eagle caught in a trap meant for lynx or coyotes flew away Monday seemingly unharmed after an Alaska Wildlife Trooper and the person who spotted it took quick action.

“When I unloaded the trap, it just flew away. It was doing pretty well,” said Wildlife Trooper Trent Chwialkowski. “It was found located fairly quickly by the person passing by. I released it without problems and watched it jump and fly away. It didn’t show any signs of injury except what would appear to be a minor cut on the foot. But it didn’t look like a long term issue.”

A happy ending doesn’t greet the usual browsers happening upon food loaded in traps. The season is open for legal trapping in Kenai Peninsula wilderness areas, and this trap was located on Crossman Ridge, a road that extends from the Winn Nature Center to the city reservoir at Bridge Creek. Chwialkowski described the trap as being appropriate for lynx, coyotes and wolves. Troopers field a lot of complaints about the wrong creatures getting caught in the legal traps, but Chwialkowski emphasized that trapping laws allow for the legal placement of such traps.

“We get a lot of complaints about moose and dogs getting caught and we don’t know whose trap it is, and we can’t wait around to find out,” he said. “If we could have the trapper identified,we would want it moved and for the (owner) to take precautions to prevent this in the future.”

Public education of trappers, encouraging them to take precautions in their placement of traps and to check them often, would save animal lives.

In this case, another critter may have dug the trap from its camouflaged placement and attracted the eagle to it once it was exposed, Chwialkowski theorized. The person who first reported the eagle to the Homer Police is a caretaker at a nearby cabin. Police quickly called in the wildlife trooper.

Police Chief Mark Robl said this is the third eagle called into the police department in recent weeks. An eagle got struck by a car on East End while swooping low, chasing something in the path of the car. Another person found a dead eagle on the beach. Last year, an alarming number of eagles were reportedly killed on the highway between Homer and Soldotna, likely because of the high snowshoe hare population, wildlife officials said at the time.

Once found dead, the eagles are collected and preserved in a freezer.

What happens after a dead eagle is reported continues its protections under the U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, said Larry Bell, the assistant regional director for external affairs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s illegal for anyone to possess eagle parts except for Alaska or Native Americans, for religious and cultural reasons. We maintain the National Eagle Repository by supplying it with the eagles,” Bell said. Alaska supplies most of the eagle regalia made available to Native Americans throughout the U.S., and the parts are in high demand. For some parts, the wait list is long.

“The entire eagle is bagged and frozen and sent to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado,” Bell explains. “Wildlife law enforcement bags and freezes them. If they’d been shot, they’ll be retained for prosecution. When they are found dead and are no longer needed for evidence, they are conveyed to the repository. Then, they (Native American groups) submit an application to the repository for eagle claws and feathers. It’s first-come, first serve.”

It’s easier to get a single feather than multiple ones, and the repository gets more requests for feathers than any other part. But claws and beaks are also a big request.

Since it takes a while to compile mortality data from many parts of remote Alaska as well as the urban areas, Bell said the latest data available is for 2008 and the first six months of 2010. Alaska continues to have the highest concentrations of eagles in the country.

In 2008, 351 bald eagles and one golden eagle were sent to Colorado. In the first six months of 2010, 127 bald and two golden eagles were sent in.

“They get hit in power line strikes, vehicles collisions and they fall into contaminant situations,” Bell said.

Naomi Klouda is a reporter with the Homer Tribune. Used with permission.