Steve Bodio on Golden Eagles

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I received an email from Steve Bodio about Golden eagles, in response to my post (“Golden Eagles Redux. Or Not.”), and he has been kind enough to let me reprint it here. He has the unique perspective of a falconer who knows what he is talking about. He also provided the magnificent photograph.

This is Steve:

I have a bit of a heretical stance about Golden eagles re wind farms– too complex for sound bites ( or just too ambivalent?) but closer to yours than the prohibitionists’ stance.

I dislike the amount of kills allowed for wind farms. But whether or not the population is harmed needs at least two questions answered. One is how many (golden) eagles there are; the other is what else takes them out of (breeding) circulation.

The first is never discussed except among biologists– it is as though certain enviros do not want to ever say anything optimistic. The number of bald eagles got brought low, partly by persistent pesticides, and now increases as it becomes ever more tolerant of human society. But the number of known Golden nests (or rather the reasonably accepted extrapolated number ) is AND MAY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN almost inconceivably high, so high I am not inclined to quote it without access to the actual data, except five figures of PAIRS in North America. (There are two nesting pairs I know of within ten miles of where I write these notes). This is never publicized, but you can track it down. The data is not from livestock or energy apologists, either. Remember, there is an untouched Arctic population, and ones in Labrador that seem to eat herons in breeding season. The golden is so adaptable that there is a Greek population that eats mostly TORTOISES. I doubt wind turbines will dent those numbers or scare them away.

The Texans used to shoot hundreds every year and it seems to have done little BIOLOGICAL harm. Now wind farms are allowed to kill several hundred a year, and Navajos and other Native Peoples are allowed not only unlimited hunting but utterly unlimited access to such species as red- tailed hawks, not to train but to sell feathers. Which works out in practice that every delinquent kid on a troubled reservation sees a hawk on a pole ands shoots it. Then probably sells it. While there are serious religious uses of eagles by the Pueblos, there is also an internal market, really illicit, in feathers for tribal dance outfits, competitive and lucrative- and some sympathetic judges have decided these commercial competitions are protected too. (Meanwhile one pueblo has modified its ceremonies to no longer kill eagles, and has hired a biologist to teach them how to keep them in a healthy way!)

Many activist types hate falconry as intolerable meddling with romantic symbols, but a falconer’s eagle is not even lost from the population– only “on loan” so to speak. The Kazakhs I rode with in Asia let them go to breed after ten years, and eagles commonly live to over 30. Until now falconers were a allowed a take of (I think) 6 wild caught golden eagles a year, only from areas in Wyoming and the Dakotas with proven sheep predation problems. Right now the government is inclined to end this benign “use”. I wish that moralists and humane activists would not go after the tiny portion of eagles allowed to falconers! If we allow a small kill harvest from the tribes, an unknown yet amount for wind farms, oil wells, roads and such, and want a healthy population… we HAVE to set fairly rigid quotas to be safe. But known numbers could easily allow a live take of up to six (or ten or whatever– except I don’t think that there will ever be that many eaglers), some of which would eventually even breed.

Meanwhile, in the warden- free lands of most reservations eagles still exist only because of apathy– there is no protection. Ranchers under 60 are more or less benign, and don’t shoot them (wolves are far more threatening in both reality and reputation), but some angry young rez kids kill every sitting bird they see, and sell the feathers no matter what, as a demonstration that they “own” them Some tribes have made clear falconers shouldn’t get any quota, because they are religious symbols! A bit of googling would show us the old regs, under which we existed and complained for decades, while Texans shot hundreds or maybe even thousands– see Don Scheuler’s Incident at Eagle Ranch) even thousands, were uninformed– they now seem almost as unimaginable as photos of the aerial dogfights with eagles when they were hunted from planes. But counter intuitively they were probably biologically harmless in that they didn’t– because they couldn’t– wipe out eagles. Morally though, making dead eagles a commodity for anyone looks worse to me than wind farms; commerce can drive extinction like stoking a fire.

Why not reasonable quotas for falconers’ birds? Fewer privileges for Indians, at least ones with no religious stake, as those don’t have the built- in cultural reverence? And less posturing from anti- wind people at least about eagles aka Charismatic Megafauna (the turbines may actually be worse for bats, group far more threatened than the golden eagle!)

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