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Where have all the eagles gone...? 

As a kid on the family farm in Connecticut during the (first) Great Depression, with the help of my grandfather, I was taught to trap, kill and skin striped skunks. I then sold the pelts to buy shoes for school. But, it is no longer necessary for me to trap, skin and sell the pelts of skunks to buy shoes. In fact, with the price of gasoline, I doubt if it would come out in my favor financially.

Fur-trapping makes no sense from the legal, entertainment or financial viewpoint.

On one hand, it is illegal to abuse animals; on the other, it is not only legal to trap animals—perhaps the cruelest and most abusive method of treating any animal—but also encouraged by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency charged with protecting Oregon wildlife.

Take a look at the license requirements: "Juveniles younger than 14 years of age are not required to purchase a license, except to hunt or trap bobcat and otter." (Bobcat trapping kills eagles, and there is no regulation governing where traps can be set for otter—three feet from a hiking trail along the Metolius is perfectly legal. And the crazy part is if dad removes the trap so it won't catch a child or family dog, he can be arrested for moving it.

There is a snappy little saying passed along in the trapper's mystique that says it all for an animal trapped unintentionally: "Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up."

The cruelest instrument I have ever seen used by people who (legally) trap—for sport and entertainment—is the leg-hold raccoon trap. It is designed so a raccoon will put his forepaw in a heavy tube for the bait and sets off the trigger for a thick steel band to crush the animal's foot and leg bones.

I had a first hand example of the suffering an animal endures from this barbaric device when a woman from Sisters called me about a raccoon dangling from the fence in her yard, with this steel device clamped to its front leg.

Capturing the suffering animal was a painful thing to see, but with the aid of a powerful neighbor who had the strength to squeeze the locking device and release the trap—and a thick blanket thrown over the raccoon's head and torso to protect Good Samaritan—the raccoon was set free. There is no question, if it lived without becoming infected, what remained of the foot would rot off, and that isn't something I even want to envision.

Thinking about that poor animal, trapped legally and suffering the abuse of being caught in that horrifying device, and then thinking about the terrible condition of cats, dogs and horses taken from owners who abused them illegally, makes me wonder about the common sense and legal status of trapping wildlife.

In the 50-plus years I've lived in Oregon I've seen some pretty lousy things happen to our wildlife, and trapping is the worst. My old pal, Ed Park, and I once found a badger near Brothers in a leg-hold trap that had been suffering for so long it had dug a circular ditch round-and-round on the end of the chain attached to the trap. The ditch was so deep I sat in it and could not see over the rim. And the badger was still alive, caught by one foot in the steel-jawed trap — yes, we released it (which was illegal).

I know through personal experience that "Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up" means exactly what it says. I received a phone call from a man who opened the conversation this way: "If you promise not to call the cops, I'll give you this big eagle I have in my garage."

When I asked him how he came to have an eagle in his possession, he said he was a bobcat-trapper working the Fort Rock country and had put out a "sight-set" for bobcats under a juniper tree, but caught the eagle by mistake.

(A "sight-set" is a dead rabbit [or other bait] hung from the lower branches of a juniper with traps beneath it. The problem with that technique is that a magpie or raven usually spots the bait first; an eagle chases off magpies or ravens, and the unfortunate eagle ends up in the traps.)

"Most of the guys out there kill and bury any eagles they catch, but I couldn't do that to this one," the caller said. "It's so big and feisty, and wants to live."

After further chin-wagging we reached an agreement: I wouldn't call the USFWS, OSP or ODFW, and he allowed me to come to his place and collect the eagle—which was not as easy as it sounds.

The foot that had been in the trap was mangled, and when I took the eagle to the vet, he confirmed it could not be repaired; it had to be amputated. I could not keep the eagle in captivity as my rehab permit had expired, so he put on a break-away cast with medication that would (hopefully) keep the stump from getting infected.

I banded the eagle with a federal bird band and released it near Fort Rock—hoping it had learned a lesson and would stay away from bobcat bait. Apparently it did, because 8 years later the banding lab informed me the eagle had been found dead by a state wildlife officer, shot in Northern California.

Take a look at that eagle (above) Charlie Baughman photographed near his home on the Deschutes. It is one of the lucky ones that escaped from a leg-hold trap, but was left with a permanently paralyzed and deformed foot.

My wife, Sue, and I are helping to conduct a five-year census of golden eagles. Unfortunately, we're finding a great many (more than usual) empty cliff nests with no eagles in the vicinity this year. What we are finding, however, is plentiful evidence of four-wheel drive vehicles using the normally unused backcountry roads in winter leading to and from those same cliffs.

I know it is presumptuous of me to say these are trapper's rigs, but the evidence is pretty good when we find skinned coyote carcasses out in the sagebrush in these areas, and I wonder about: "Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up."

I have to agree with what the Trap Free Oregon (www.trapfreeoregon.org/) group says:

"Oregon has a long tradition of fur trapping. Long ago, when people were scarce and wildlife was abundant it was a viable way to make a living for Oregonians. Now that people are abundant and wildlife is scarce, it just doesn't make sense." SW

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