Wildlife photographers fight over owl baiting in Minnesota

(Sharon Stiteler photo)

DULUTH, Minn. — The issue of feeding owls has become hotly debated among the wildlife photography community in Minnesota.

Professional wildlife photographer Keith Crowley tells Minnesota Public Radio News that baiting has become an issue over the past decade as the popularity of wildlife photography has exploded due to the advent of high speed, digital technology.

The issue sparked a proposed state law a couple years ago and led to increased confrontations between photographers, both in person and online.

“You’ll have five people photographing the same owl, two will want to bait, and three won’t,” he said. “And there will be shouting matches. I watched someone grab someone else’s box full of mice and drive away with them, screaming obscenities. It’s a heated issue. People feel very strongly on both sides.”

Some, such as photographer Michael Furtman, say baiting is unethical because it doesn’t capture owls behaving naturally and can harm the species by habituating them to humans.

“You know, there are a lot of people who would actually like to photograph this bird hunting, and it’s not going to hunt the rest of the day after you stuff it to the gills,” Furtman said.

But others, such as photographer Terry Crayne, say they don’t see any damage in feeding owls and point out that there have not been any studies documenting how owls have been harmed.

“Most of the people I know who are against feeding owls are actually feeding deer,” he said. “The deer are associating humans with food. So which is worse? In my mind, if you’re against feeding one animal, you should be against feeding them all.”


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