GRANITE FALLS — Wildlife agents are investigating the deaths of four bald eagles found floating in a lake east of Granite Falls.
“It was real apparent that three of them had been shot by a small caliber rifle,” state Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Jennifer Maurstad said. “My guess is all four were probably shot.”
The birds were found Jan. 9 and are being sent to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife lab to confirm how they died.
Maurstad did not disclose the exact location of the shootings, saying the case remains under investigation. She said they were spotted from a gravel road beneath some trees.
Three of the eagles were adults; the other, a juvenile.
In 11 years on the job, Maurstad said she has not encountered any other cases of people shooting eagles, although she is aware of reports that some people poach them for their feathers.
That was not the case this time.
“My guess is it was a crime of opportunity and somebody thought, ‘I can get away with this,’” she said.
Bald eagle populations have improved enough in recent decades that they were removed from protection status under the federal Endangered Species Act several years ago. However, they remain protected under other state and federal laws.
There are about 850 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Washington, according to government estimates.
“We have a robust population of bald eagles in Western Washington,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Zimmer said.
The investigation of these eagle deaths likely will involve a forensic wildlife lab in Ashland, Ore., Zimmer said.
“If there is evidence to be gained, they will get it,” Zimmer said.
The lab work could provide useful information about trajectories and ballistics, he said.
Killing an eagle is a misdemeanor under federal law. It is also a state crime with a maximum penalty of $1,000 and 90 days in jail. Also, under state law, there’s a $2,000 fine per eagle.
The Stillaguamish Tribe, state Fish and Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States and Conservation Northwest have banded together to offer a $13,750 cash reward for the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for shooting the eagles, Maurstad said.
People can leave tips at 1-877-933-9847 or email email@example.com.
“Somebody out there saw something or heard something,” Zimmer said. “It could be as simple as a vehicle description.”
Zimmer said whoever shot the eagles knew what he or she was doing.
“In terms of bald eagles, there is no question they are pretty hard to mistake for, say, a mallard duck,” Zimmer said. “This is not a case of someone accidentally shooting something or defending property. This is an example of someone shooting our national bird, our national symbol.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org