Bald Eagle death arouses suspicion; reward offered

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By Charlotte Underwood

The death of a Bald Eagle has the Tennessee Wildlife Agency (TWRA) and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service suspicious. They are offering a $2,500 reward for information.

In late February, TWRA Officer Ken Cutsinger found a dead Bald Eagle on the shore of Norris Lake near point 16.

“A fisherman reported it to me,” Cutsinger said. Upon initial inspection, Cutsinger said he could not determine the cause of death. The bird was missing several body parts, including its talons, which made the death suspicious.

Cutsinger turned the eagle over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ryan Noel, who then sent the remains on to be analyzed at a lab in Ashland, Ore.

“We have not yet received the results back from the lab, which supports all 50 states and just about every other country in the world,” said Noel. He explained the lab was backed up and it could take up to three weeks to get the results, though he hoped to receive them sooner.

Noel hopes the lab results will indicate whether the bird died of natural causes and parts were removed after its death or whether the bird was intentionally killed for its parts.

“The talons, among other parts were removed,” Noel said. He stated it was somewhat common for eagles and other birds to be killed for their brightly colored feathers and talons.

“The feathers and talons are often used to create crafts,” Noel said. He said the Native American community prized eagle feathers and held them sacred.

“However, I am in no way saying this particular group is responsible,” Noel said.

He reported approximately one to two eagles are killed each year in East Tennessee.

The death of an eagle is taken very seriously, according to Noel.

Despite the fact that the eagle is increasing in numbers and was actually taken off the endangered species threatened list in June 2007, the bird of prey is still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; both of which are federal statutes. Violations of these statutes carry maximum penalties of up to $100,000 and one year in federal prison.

Noel acknowledged the bird may have died of natural causes and perhaps someone chanced upon it and took parts as an action of opportunity.

“If that’s the case, it could be an honest mistake. If the person would come forward and be honest with us, then the consequences would be much less severe,” said Noel.

He explained these circumstances would classify a class B misdemeanor and carried a much less severe penalty of zero to six months in prison and a maximum of $15,000 fine.

“Fortunately the eagles are doing well and have largely recovered in the lower 48 states, but we hope to continue helping the eagle to do well and increase in numbers,” said Noel.

Anyone with information concerning this eagle or the death of any eagle is asked to contact Special Agent Ryan Noel with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement in Knoxville at (865) 692-4024.