Alaskan Town Aims To Shoo Bald Eagles With Handout Ban

Friday, February 17, 2006

The most convenient place in America to take great close-up pictures of bald eagles is finally closing itself down.

The city council of Homer, a tourist and fishing town on Alaska's Kachemak Bay, voted earlier this week to phase out a feeding program that for nearly three decades has drawn hundreds of eagles to feast each winter on handouts of herring, halibut and salmon. The town acted after Alaska's Board of Game declined to regulate the feeding.

Between free meals in Homer over the years, the national symbol of the United States -- which is thriving in Alaska, where there are about 50,000 of them -- has become a chronic troublemaker. The big birds of prey, as large as 12 pounds with maximum wingspans of 7 feet, electrocute themselves on power lines, gouge each other's eyes out and make themselves sick by snacking at the town dump. They also eat the occasional cat and small dog.

The feeding ban, which goes into effect next winter, makes a temporary exception for Jean Keene, Homer's celebrated "Eagle Lady." Keene, 82, has been feeding eagles there for 28 consecutive years. Her daily gifts of tossed, freezer-burned fish to crowds of begging, but fierce-looking, eagles have lured thousands of professional photographers from around the world to Homer. They shoot (and later sell) spectacular pictures of the birds while never straying more than a few feet from their warm SUVs.

The city council voted to stop Keene from feeding the birds by 2010, and she has said she will obey the law.

-- Blaine Harden

© 2006 The Washington Post Company