Livestock predation and eagle relocation addressed by falconer
During the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Summer Membership Meeting, held Aug. 10-11 in Lander, Mike Baker, an International Eagle Austringer Association (IEAA) member of Bozeman, Mont. presented his thoughts on eagle protection and combatting livestock loss.
“We need to all work together if we’re all going to manage golden eagles,” said Baker.
Protection of wild eagles
“Wild and golden eagles are about the only animal out there that have their own act,” said Baker, noting eagles are covered under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. “This is one of the things that limits our ability to do things with bald and golden eagles.”
It wasn’t until 1972, when former Senators Clifford Hansen (R-WY) and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) incorporated language into existing legislature to try to find ways to help ranchers with loss.
By the numbers
“There’s pretty much one thing we can all agree on – eagles eat sheep,” Baker continued. “Of all the birds of prey on the planet, it has been determined golden eagles have preyed on more different species of animals than any other bird of prey on the planet.”
Data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistic Services states the number of sheep in Wyoming has decreased, while the number of livestock lost to eagles has increased.
“I’m guessing total numbers of livestock lost corresponds with years where there aren’t as many prairie dogs and rabbits,” shared Baker.
During the presentation, Baker said he estimates there are 30,000 golden eagles and over 150,000 bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Wyoming Game and Fish Department estimates about 12,000 eagles reside in Wyoming.
Room for improvement
While there are programs to mitigate the risk of loss to eagle predation and to compensate producers for their losses, Baker believes there is room for improvement.
“I know there are ranchers sitting in this room right now who have had applications for eagle relocation in since January, which were authorized by USDA services, but still didn’t get their permit until June after the lambing season has already started,” Baker said, sharing he believes the agency needs to be reminded why these permits are important to producers. While he puts in reminders when he can, Baker said it is important for producers to advocate for their position, stating, “Your voices carry a lot more weight than mine does.”
In addition to permit delays, Baker noted there is a lack of communication, especially as many agency employees are still teleworking from home.
At this point in time, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services allows falconers to capture no more than six golden eagles each year, and this is a rule many have set out to change. Baker explained, falcon organizations are proposing an amendment which will allow the management of golden eagles to be managed by the states.
Relocation and management
This fall, between and October 2021 and May of 2022, Baker and his team would like to put satellite transmitters on 23 golden eagles. Through their research, they have found when an eagle is relocated to a new geographic area that can sustain them, the eagle typically remains in the area.
“There’s something there holding the bird to the new area, and eagles show no inclination of moving back to the ranch they were removed from,” said Baker.
Baker shared, the research team trapped eagles in Wyoming and had the ability to relocate outside of the state. The team tries to search for geographical areas that will sustain the population of golden and bald eagles, typically in areas with high rabbit and prairie dog populations.
Baker plans to continue work on relocation sites and his research team is working on eagle relocation on a few Reservation sites right now, including the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.
Going forward, Baker will work on relocating eagles to new locations, working with the USDA and local ranchers, as well as encouraging producers to fill out Form 37, which allows falconers to trap and relocate predatory eagles under USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services in January, February and March 2022 in hopes to start trapping before lambing occurs.
Brittany Gunn is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.