Reward offered in rampage of eagle poaching

 

Federal agents suspect that a slew of eagle-poaching incidents in southeast Idaho is linked to the lucrative illegal wildlife trade.

Fifteen dead golden eagles have been found in the last two weeks in wetlands on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Since December 1992, 41 dead golden eagles have been found in southeast Idaho. All the eagles had been stripped of body parts.

"It's the largest incidence of eagle poaching that I've heard of in the seven years I've worked in Idaho," says Steve Magone, special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Eagle wings fetch about $150 and tails $200 on the black market. Whole golden eagles reportedly sell for about $500 per bird, officials say. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (208/523-0855) is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poachers. Just as tribal fish and game officers discovered the dead birds at Fort Hall, a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member, LaGrand Coby, was sentenced to four months in jail and fined $1,700 for possessing and transporting 14 golden eagle wings and three tails. The maximum penalty for the federal misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

What officials don't know is who shot the eagles. Coby, who never claimed he'd obtained the eagles for religious purposes, told the court he had obtained the body parts from a friend in Utah. But he refused to name the friend. Shoshone-Bannock Chairman Marvin Osborne said the tribe may increase the reward for finding the poachers.

"The tribe definitely does not approve and we wholeheartedly support finding out who did this," Osborne said.

The spate of dead eagles began the winter of 1992 when rabbit hunters near Aberdeen, Idaho, discovered six carcasses in a pile. All were missing their wings, tails and feet. Coby was stopped Dec. 30, 1992, on suspicion of drunk driving, Magone said, and police discovered wings and tails in the back of his Chevy Blazer.

A few months later, fish and wildlife officers discovered 20 more dead eagles northwest of Aberdeen. Federal lab experts were able to link the eagle wings seized in Coby's vehicle with some of the poached eagle carcasses. Coby never produced a permit for possessing the eagle parts, and in any case, Magone said, he could only have obtained one golden eagle legally.

The legal way for Native Americans to obtain bald eagle or golden eagle feathers is through the National Eagle Repository in Ashland, Ore. The repository collects eagles that have been accidentally electrocuted, killed on highways, poisoned or poached. In 1994, the repository sent the carcasses of 899 eagles to members of Indian tribes, but there are 2,900 outstanding requests for the birds, and demand from Indians is rising, officials say.

The reporter works in Boise, Idaho.

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