Oregon ranchers blame eagles for livestock deaths
ASTORIA, Ore. — Residents of Oregon’s Clatsop County can remember when it was rare to see a bald eagle.
The raptors are now being blamed for killing lambs on northern ranches, The Daily Astorian reported.
Brownsmead rancher Ben Parker has lost four lambs and suspects the same eagle is responsible. The eagle has flown so low he has felt the wind from its wings.
“She comes right down overhead,” he said.
The raptors were once on the brink of extinction but they recovered enough by 2007 to be removed from the federal endangered species list in Oregon. Now they’re found in nearly every county.
“It’s basically almost an explosion,” said Neal Maine, a wildlife photographer based in Gearhart.
State and federal reports say predation of livestock by eagles is rare on the North Coast. Many people don’t report it or are not sure it’s a bald eagle that did the killing.
“It gets a little murky,” said Russell Hunter, a veterinarian who practices in Knappa and investigates livestock deaths. “The predation is real and it’s emotional and it’s a little bit hard to determine how much of it is going on.”
An animal may die in a field from other causes but be found with an eagle or coyote eating it.
Bald eagles remain a protected species. Eagles can be hazed with if a rancher obtains a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit. None have been issued to ranchers, but the agency has received inquiries.
“(Bald eagles) are demonstrating increasing tolerance for human activity in parts of Washington and Oregon as their increasing numbers – and increasing human populations – create more overlap between human-occupied and eagle habitats,” said Jason Holm, an agency spokesman.
Parker is keeping his sheep inside the barn for now. He is experimenting with scarecrows and flags. He has retained the carcass of a gutted 2-1/2-month-old lamb that he spotted with an eagle on top of it. Federal biologists will determine if the eagle killed it.
Neighbor Ed Johnson has lost three lambs this spring. Johnson uses guard dogs to protect sheep from coyotes and roaming domestic dogs.
Multiple people have spoken to Dirk Rohne, a Brownsmead dairy farmer and Port of Astoria commissioner, about eagle predation.
“The bald eagles impacting livestock is a new one,” he said. “I can’t say anyone was talking about that until this year.”
On a positive note, he said, eagles appear to have taken a major bite out of Brownsmead’s invasive nutria population.
Johnson says issues with eagles come in cycles.
When runs of smelt runs are strong in the Columbia River, he doesn’t see as many eagles. When runs of the forage fish are low, more eagles appear, he said.
“It kind of depends what’s around to eat and unfortunately, sometimes it’s lambs,” he said.
Eagle predation has not become a major financial problem for Brownsmead sheep ranchers. They expect some loss each year to predators.
“I’ve got nothing against the eagles,” Johnson said. “They’re beautiful. But at times there would be seven or eight of them sitting around waiting for a little action.”
He’s not interested in spending $100 on a hazing permit and more money on explosives or other noisemakers. Johnson said It takes time to get the permit and the eagles have not been a problem every year, he said.