ZEKE WILSON: Is law out of whack?
There is more than $7,000 in reward money being offered in regard to the recent shooting of a couple bald eagles in Cambria and Butler counties.
If the money would contribute to compensate farmers or fund the Penn- sylvania Game Commission, I could see some good in it. However, at the price of a brand-new four-wheeler, it is nearing the point where people might just accuse another with hope that they are actually the perpetrator.
A wide array of bounty systems were ushered in at the turn of the century in an attempt to make it easier to live. Poultry to the bulk of Americans is a staple, and back then, the system was aimed at stopping the loss of a meal to an owl or other raptor. Chances were good that if a bird did become a problem, the person suffering losses would settle the situation.
As more Americans shifted toward offices and factories, the chickens began to come from the store, and there were fewer farmers to protect their flocks. In addition to fewer small farmers as adversaries, the automobile was taking everyone to the job at breakneck speed, killing game along the way. With the meal laying right there, raptors quickly took toward hunting the highways.
The use of chemicals such as DDT contributed to bald eagle numbers plummeting due to the eventual infertility in the males and thin eggshells, which would break during nesting. Rodents and rabbits that had ingested treated plant growth retained the chemicals and then passed it all on to the eagles, which also retained it. Once the country realized what was happening, public awareness quickly allowed for the Endangered Species Act to be passed in 1973. Alligators along with bald eagles were among the species listed.
The other day I was watching the Discovery Channel and saw a couple boys from Louisiana with a boatload of gators that had their truck tires squatted. A huge commercial and recreational industry has resulted in the alligator success story, allowing many to make a living in the outdoors.
At the same time the current bald eagle investigation continues, with hunter and trapper money footing the bill for well over two months. As the Game Commission and other state agencies study the decrease in hunting license sales, perhaps they should look at how their agencies have shifted from game to wildlife. With hunting license sales driving the budget, obviously the attention toward game declined with the added workload of non-game species.
Small game is what got people hunting because at a time it was relatively easy to go get rabbits or ringnecks for dinner because there were far fewer raptors and much better habitat. Now raptors are protected, ground is lost to development daily, and pheasants are stocked, but funding is limited.
In Lancaster, another eagle shooter was charged by the Game Commission with two misdemeanors. One count is for killing an endangered or threatened species, and one count is for unlawful taking and possession of protected birds. Paul A. Zook, an Amish farmer, could face up to two years in jail and fines up to $5,000 if found guilty. In addition, Zook could be required to pay up to $5,000 to “replace” the eagle.
A chicken farmer in the area, Zook readily admitted to shooting three redtail hawks and another funny-looking one — a juvenile bald eagle that had been found stuffed down a groundhog hole.
While I am not in favor of indiscriminatingly shooting eagles, I question the law that allows a bird to take food from a family’s table and fines the man that does something to prevent it.