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Compromise offered on controversy over feeding bald eagles

Editorial

Posted: Friday, January 20, 2006

The Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee has suggested a reasonable compromise to the controversy over eagle feeding. Under the committee’s proposal, a person who has been feeding eagles for 25 years or more could apply for a permit to continue doing so. The proposal would allow Homer’s famous “Eagle Lady,” Jean Keene, to continue the practice.

The Alaska Board of Game meets Jan. 27-30 in Anchorage. Among the more than 50 proposals it will consider are at least four that would ban or limit eagle feeding across the state. While the issue has been debated at length, the advisory panel’s recommendation adds a touch of humanity to the discussion. We doubt there is another person anywhere in the state who has fed eagles with the consistency and self-imposed rules under which Keene has operated. There’s no doubt that Keene’s actions toward the eagles are well intentioned.

At the same time, there are legitimate concerns that eagle feeding in general has some negative, unintended consequences. Those opposed to the practice give some sound reasons for not feeding eagles, including the increase in eagle population which may harm other bird populations and the surrounding ecosystem, the threat to other wildlife (and pets) from predation or disease, the threat to aircraft safety and the risk of electrocution and injury to eagles that come into contact with high-voltage wires or antennas.

The most compelling argument against feeding eagles, however, is this: Eagles are skilled predators and scavengers, and they really don’t need help feeding themselves. It makes sense that they be added to the list of species prohibited from being fed in Alaska. That list includes moose, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes and wolverines.

It also makes sense that special circumstances would warrant feeding eagles. Certainly an event like the Exxon Valdez oil spill would fall under those special circumstances. So would some research and rehabilitation. Jean Keene also deserves special consideration for the length of time she has fed the eagles.

While the economic boom that eagle feeding may provide the Homer area during slow winter months certainly can be appreciated, it isn’t a good enough reason to allow the feeding of eagles anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Sure, photographs of eagles may be harder to get if eagle feeding is mostly banned, but eagles will still be around. And Homer’s scenic, wild beauty still provides plenty of views that can’t be captured anywhere else in the world.

There are more reasons to come to Homer in winter than the ease of getting eagle pictures. Among them: Its wonderful winter quietness stands in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle that people put up with all year long in big cities.

The Board of Game, however, must focus on this one question when it considers the proposals banning eagle feeding: What’s best for the eagles and the surrounding ecosystem in the long run?

The evidence would point to banning eagle feeding. Our hope is that ban would allow for some special circumstances and a very few exceptions to the rule.



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