Drive-up nature is better than nothing

 

The woman dubbed "eagle lady" grabbed a chunk of fish and threw it out on the sand in front of her trailer. Fifteen bald eagles immediately jumped off their perches and flew into a scuffle for the meat.

A large, younger eagle, its feathers still gray-brown and mottled, emerged with the prize clamped in its talons. It hopped to the edge of the flock and flapped into the air. As its feet lifted off the ground, its talons tucked the fish up and under its tail feathers and it flew out across the water, heading for Alaska’s Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park.

It was a beautiful scene there in Homer, as my family sat in our car and watched from 20 feet away. We’d traveled to Alaska over the Christmas holiday to visit friends and see the arctic winter. Bald eagles swooped and squawked in the air and danced and strutted on the ground, and sometimes their six-foot wingspans filled the view from our windshield. My two young daughters were awed and mesmerized.

The "eagle lady," as she has become known, has been feeding eagles for 30 years, and has thereby garnered relentless attention from the media and professional photographers. On the few days we watched, about 100 bald eagles showed up, along with a handful of people in automobiles, a few with cameras supporting long, professional lenses.

It is estimated that 80 percent of all commercial eagle photos seen in the United States are taken right here in Homer. We are nature-starved, and these images feed us. But what we saw is also controversial.

The Anchorage Audubon Society recently requested that Homer outlaw eagle-feeding, and the local Kachemak Bay Conservation Society continues to debate the issue. Conservation groups, as do wildlife ecologists, usually believe it is unethical and harmful to make food available to wildlife. Feeding wildlife — making beggars of them — often attracts animals like bears or mountain lions, and they may end up dead because of it.

As a conservationist and working ecologist in Colorado, I should side with my colleagues who are adamantly against feeding eagles and other wildlife. But, I’ve begun to notice other sides to the issue.

What I mostly see nowadays are children — like mine — who are confined all day in brick, sterile school buildings with little exposure to the natural world. I see their parents — like me — similarly holed up in dry, monotonous office buildings. I see our homes and strip malls marching across the landscape devouring tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat every year. So is it any wonder that policymakers take anti-environmental stances, while the decoupling of nature to human culture is evermore entrenched?

In Homer, and all around the Kenai Peninsula, there’s a treasure trove of opportunities for seeing wild animals doing what comes naturally. Whales, bears, salmon, wolves, moose, otters, and sea lions roam amid the glaciers, mountain peaks, raging rivers and ocean. In much of Alaska, nature in the raw is the headline act on the main stage.

As we watched the bald eagle feeding, another adult eagle snatched a hunk of meat and flew to a post three feet away from my open car window. The huge bird ripped and tore at the fish with its beak and claws, bits of meat and blood flying through the air. As it periodically looked at me in the car, its eyes dispassionate and intensely piercing, I squeezed backwards in my seat and wondered aloud if I should roll up the window.

For I, too, am meat, and what an incredible feeling it was to realize it.

I don’t advocate feeding wildlife in any situation where it may be dangerous for people or for the wild creatures themselves, but I believe we need to think more creatively, and give the public more watchable wildlife opportunities that let all of us be awed and mesmerized.

The signs at the eagle lady’s said, "Eagle Feeding Station. Please Stay in Your Car." I see it differently, more like "Drive-up nature. Next summer’s blockbuster hit. Coming to this special parking lot."

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000