A golden eagle has been euthanized after it was struck and mortally injured by a semi truck on Highway 94 in Boulevard. The eagle’s suffering was eased thanks to compassion shown by passing good Samaritans and a County Animal Control officer.
But the incident raises some important questions. First, why did the Enivornmental Impact Report for Invenergy’s proposed Shu’luuk wind project on the Campo reservation conclude no golden eagles are found in the area? Second, are there lapses in County training for its officers on the handling of a federally protected species?
Sam McKernon, a housekeeper from Boulevard, was returning home when she came upon the scene on Highway 94 at Shasta lane, near the Campo reservation in Boulevard.
“I saw these two men outside of the semi…the eagle is pinned between the semi and the side mirror,” she told East County Magazine. “It’s wing is sheared off, just hanging, but it’s alive and it’s fighting these two Mexican truck drivers.” She stopped and offered to help, then realized it was a golden eagle and offered to help.
She took a cell phone photo of the trapped raptor. The truck driver offered to give her the wounded bird. Donning welding gloves, he freed the bird, then laid it on McKernon’s jacket on the ground.
Then the truckers drove away. McKernon didn’t get their license, focused instead on seeking help. She called Border Patrol, which responds to most emergencies in her rural southeast community. She then called 911 and the operator offered to call state or federal wildlife officials. But after two hours, none had showed up. A CalTrans officer did stop and went to seek help.
“I held that eagle for two hours. It was talking to me the whole time,” said McKernon.
Two friends of McKernon’s arrived and one of them contacted Sky Hunters, a raptor rescue facility in Alpine. One came with a cage, hoping to rescue the bird. Then Agent Lewis Petersen with County Animal Control arrived, sent by the CalTrans offer to render aid.
“He assessed the eagle and said it had to be euthanized immediately. It was suffering,” said McKernon, adding that agent said the eagle was a male. “He said it’s leg was broken, its wing was torn, hanging by a tendon, and it had other injuries; there was a lot of blood. My girlfriend said it’s a federally protected bird, but he said no, it isn’t. Then he wrapped it in a blanket, got a needle and gave it a shot.” She praised the agent for his compassionate treatment in ending the eagle’s suffering, but added it was an emotional ordeal. “I was crying.”
Nancy Conney at Sky Hunters spoke with ECM this evening. She agreed that euthanasia was probably the only humane option. “We’re not allowed to have a full amputee,” she said, adding that an eagle with an amputated wing will fall over and can’t get up.
She said she spoke with a federal wildlife agent who told her that the County agent “should have known” that eagles are in fact federally protected and that if an eagle dies from any cause, it must be turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service to perform a necropsy, after which the carcass is sent to a federal repository in Colorado. Registered members of Native American tribes may then apply to receive eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes.
McKernon said the County Animal Control agent later called and advised her that he was mistaken and will freeze the carcass to turn over to federal authorities at the USFW for a necropsy, and plans to cooperate with them fully.
The incident also adds further doubts to the credibility of recent Environmental Impact Reports for major energy projects in the region. Boulevard Planning Group Chair Donna Tisdale noted that the eagle death occurred very near the proposed Shu’luuk Wind project site on the Campo reservation proposed by Invenergy, though the tribal council failed to approve the project.
“The developer claimed there weren’t any golden eagles here,” Tisdale recalled.
Another project that has been approved by the federal government in McCain Valley adjacent to Boulevard is Iberdrola’s Tule Wind. Long-time residents have also indicated that they believe that project’s EIR downplayed the significant presence of golden eagles.
Even before today’s eagle death, the EIR for Iberdrola’s project had already been cast into doubt following the conviction in federal court of David Bittner, the eagle expert hired by Iberdrola to perform raptor studies on the project. Bittner was found to have illegally taken a golden eagle, was operating without federal or state licensure for years while banding endangered and protected birds. Multiple freezers full of protected dead birds were found at his residence, a violation of federal law. Bittner accepted enormous payments from energy companies to perform studies which favored the developers and downplayed risk turbines could pose to eagles and other raptors.
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