Minnesota man releases bald eagle caught in a trap

Above and below: Rich Hinrichs snapped some images of the bald eagle before releasing it from a trap in northern Itasca County. (Photos courtesy of Rich Hinrichs)

Rich Hinrichs emailed me some pictures last week I thought I’d share with readers. Wrapping up a day at his cabin near Bigfork the Sunday before Christmas, Hinrichs stumbled upon a troubling sight: an adult bald eagle stuck in a trap.

He’d traveled to his cabin for some peace and quiet during the hectic holiday season, and before returning to the Twin Cities on Dec. 22, he visited a creek near his cabin. When he saw an eagle in a trap, he decided he could release it. Given the remoteness of his location and lack of cellular phone coverage, he doubted authorities could be on the scene for hours, at best.

“I could see its leg was not broken, but the bird was exhausted,” he said. “I was out of cell phone range to call anyone, and I had a sled in my vehicle, so I laid that over it, then spent time opening the trap enough to push its leg through.”

The eagle skipped down the creek with its wings out, then flew up into a tree. Hinrichs watched the bird for a while and it appeared to settle into a comfortable position before he left.

A firefighter from Columbia Heights who recently retired after 33 years, Hinrichs joked, “I guess I had one more save in me.”

En route home, Hinrichs contacted local Conservation Officer Jayson Hansen, who Hinrichs said later checked out the scene and reported no sign of the eagle. Hansen was not available for comment earlier this week.

Ham Lake CO Tony Salzer has a strong trapping background and said most traps are remarkably efficient at targeting specific species, but unintended catches sometimes happen.

In such situations, the DNR prefers that citizens contact a local CO who can see the animal in the trap to try and determine if there was a violation, Salzer said.

“Then we deal with it accordingly,” he said. “Most trappers feel lousy when something like this happens.”

Though the bird in Hinrichs’ situation appears to have survived, Salzar said that in a more serious case, the public should resist the impulse to put down and/or collect an eagle or any bird of prey, which are protected by federal laws and illegal to possess. Dead eagles eventually make their way to a federal repository in Colorado where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service then distributes them for American Indian religious purposes.

“The public should leave a mercy killing determination up to us. We like to get out there, look at the set, and there’s plenty of educational opportunities at raptor centers for injured birds of prey,” he said.

Though Hinrichs safely handled the animal by covering it first, there’s always a safety issue for people around any injured wildlife and especially big birds of prey.

“You don’t want to get on the business end of one of those things,” Salzer said.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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