Officials seek help finding bald eagle poachers

Posted at 2:58 PM, Feb 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-20 17:02:13-05

PIUTE COUNTY, Utah -- It’s a majestic bird and one of the most recognizable symbols of the United States, and Utah officials are trying to track down those responsible for killing a bald eagle found stuffed into a hole in a tree.

Capt. Rick Olson is an officer with the law enforcement branch of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and he said the animal was killed in rural Utah, which is where crimes like this are most common.

“We had a bald eagle that was shot with a small-caliber rifle down in Piute County,” he said.

Olson said the eagle, which is an animal protected by federal law, was shot early in January. The carcass was found in a hollowed out tree after a property owner found the carcass and made a call. Olson said killing a bald eagle is a felony.

“The penalty is a third degree felony, which is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison… It’s a pretty serious crime,” he said.

Olson said Eagle poaching has been on the rise recently.

“It’s not as common as say deer poaching, but in the last several years we have seen an increase in the number of eagle deaths in the state; typically it occurs in more rural Utah,” he said.

Olson said most eagles shot are left behind rather than taken as trophies, and he said usually the act is done on purpose.

“Well, when somebody shoots something like an eagle it’s more intentional,” he said. “There’s no season on an eagle, so it’s not like they misidentified it for a different game bird.”

Olson said they only have about 50 officers to patrol the state, and he said it is difficult to solve poaching crimes since the acts are rarely witnessed. He said they need the public’s help, and that anyone with information about poachers can make an anonymous call to their hotline at 1-800-662-3337.

“We really need the public’s help to find these types of poaching incidents, whether it’s an eagle or some other wild animal,” Olson said.