Bald eagles and sea gulls feed last Friday afternoon on fish scraps dumped illegally on the Homer Spit at a city campground across from Freight Dock Road.
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home
As Jean Keene starts her annual feeding of bald eagles, the arguments for and against feeding America’s national symbol have been flying back and forth like a convocation of eagles squabbling over the last scrap of herring.
The debate this winter has increased in response to four proposals before the Alaska Board of Game to ban eagle feeding. From Jan. 27-29 in Anchorage, the board will consider these and 49 other proposals to regulate wildlife.
The board also will look at other proposals from conservationists and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to prohibit feeding wild birds seasonally or creating situations that attract deer, elk, bear, moose and other wild animals. The Homer City Council also is considering an ordinance regarding eagle feeding, but won’t take any action until after the Board of Game meeting.
The Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee will discuss the proposals going before the Board of Game at a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the old Kachemak Bay Research Reserve building on Kachemak Drive.
For more than 25 years, from late December to mid-March, Keene has been feeding eagles from her compound in the Homer Spit Campground next to the Seafarer’s Memorial. Edgar Bailey, a retired Homer biologist who made one of the eagle feeding proposals, said before Keene and others started feeding, the Audubon Society Christmas bird count recorded an average of five eagles. The average count now is about 130 eagles a year. Higher counts are in February and March, with a record of 650 eagles counted by George West in the 1990s, Bailey said.
The four proposals list similar reasons for not feeding eagles: the increase in eagle populations, the threat to other wildlife from predation or disease, the threat to aircraft safety and the risk of electrocution and injury to eagles getting on high-voltage wires or on antennas. Some proposals also speak to the ethics of feeding predators.
“I think it’s very sad to drive down the Spit and see these bedraggled eagles sitting on trucks and cranes and buildings,” Bailey said.
Roberta Highland, also of Homer, is the author of another proposal. She said she was stirred to action after seeing photographers baiting eagles on beaches where people walk.
“I thought, this does not look safe. This is out of control,” Highland said.
Keene doesn’t support a ban on feeding eagles. She said she wouldn’t oppose restrictions on some feeding elsewhere that’s done in an unsafe place.
“Eagles are fed in a safe place that’s the main thing,” Keene said.
Bald eagles are managed nationally under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act and the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Federal law doesn’t prohibit eagle feeding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends not feeding eagles in Alaska, however. In its brochure, “When to Feed Birds in Alaska,” it cites reasons similar to those in the proposals.
The city of Homer bans feeding or baiting eagles and other wildlife at Port of Homer facilities, including the Pioneer Dock, Deep Water Dock, Fish Dock, Coal Point Park and the outer barge ramp.
Proponents of eagle feeding argue it gives a boost to winter tourism. Wildlife photographers pay up to $1,600 a person to attend workshops in Homer, with three or four such tours a season. Eagle watchers come from around the world to see large groups of eagles against the scenic backdrop of Kachemak Bay.
Homer eagle photographs have appeared in national publications, such as the cover of the December issue of “Birding” magazine, the publication of the American Birding Association.
Alaska law allows citizens to make proposals to the Board of Game, said Kim Titus, deputy director of the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation and the lead coordinator for Board of Game activities.
“It’s a very open system. Any member of the public can submit something, and it’s publicly heard,” Titus said.
Regulations affecting statewide management of game are considered by the board on a four-year cycle, Titus said.
The four proposals on eagle feeding all speak to adding bald eagles to the list of species prohibited from being fed in Alaska. Alaska Administrative Code 92.230 now prohibits feeding moose, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes or wolverines, except where allowed under trapping or hunting regulations.
Proposals 38, 39, 40 and 43, were suggested by Bailey, Susan Clardy and Highland, all Homer residents, and the Homer-based Alaska Eagle Watch Network, a group that has been monitoring eagle feeding for the past few years. Like the others, Highland’s proposal would restrict feeding eagles, but it also would allow permits to feed eagles for rehabilitation or research.
Titus said the board usually considers similar proposals at the same time. Although each proposal is considered as a separate agenda item, they’re most likely to be on the table at the same time, he said.
The board can adopt, reject or modify proposals, and isn’t a rubber stamp for any proposal, including those made by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Titus said.
A bald eagle keeps an end-of-the-year watch at the mouth of Ninilchik River, Dec. 31, 2005.
Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Hom
Proposals passed at the January meeting would go into effect July 1 and be enforced by the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
Fish and Game hasn’t taken an official position on eagle feeding, Titus said.
“We see a number of downsides to it. We also think outright banning of it is untenable and unworkable,” he said.
Homer isn’t the only Alaska community with eagle feeding. In Sitka, Titus said some lodge owners put fish scraps on the beach in summer to attract eagles, which also can attract bears.
The issue of attracting wildlife is addressed in Proposal 44, suggested by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
That proposal adds deer and elk to the list of species that cannot be fed. It also restricts leaving birdseed, hay or other animal feed that may attract wild animals prohibited to be fed and requires people to dispose of or secure attractants identified as problems. Proposal 44 came out of concerns by biologists who have been dealing with problems of wildlife attractants in Anchorage and other urban areas, Titus said.
The Kachemak Bay Conservation Society was concerned Proposal 44 could ban wild bird feeding outright, said board president Dylan Weiser.
KBCS suggested an amendment, Proposal 41, that would allow Fish and Game to act preemptively to avoid problems from animals conditioned to human food, pet food or garbage.
Titus said it isn’t the intent of Fish and Game’s proposal to ban feeding birds in the winter or when bears aren’t present.
“If there’s better language that would help clarify that, that’s the reason for the board process,” he said.
Proposal 42 from Highland would prohibit leaving birdseed out from April through November. She also suggested requiring people with livestock, beehives and fowl use electric fences or bear-proof containers to keep from attracting bears.
“I wanted to go one step further,” she said. “It gives Fish and Game a little more power.”
Highland made the proposal after people in her neighborhood off Rogers Loop Road shot black bears that had attacked chickens. She also cited an instance where a brown bear was shot near Skyline Drive after it attacked a man’s goat.
Written comments to Board of Game proposals must be received by 5 p.m. Jan. 13 to be included in the board workbook.
They can be mailed to BOG Comments, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 25526, Juneau, AK 99802-5526 or faxed to (907) 465-6094.
There is also a public comment period at the meeting. For specific guidelines on the proposals, visit www.boards. adfg.state.ak.us/gameinfo/meetinfo/gprop.php.
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