Md. Men Are Fined in Deaths of 2 Bald Eagles

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On a drizzling evening in March, hunting enthusiast Francis G. Long Jr. was shooting small game from the back porch of his apartment in Southern Maryland, as he had many times. He remembers seeing the silhouette of a big bird swooping by -- a vulture, he thought. So he pulled the trigger and hit his mark.

When the sun came up the next morning, Long said, he went into the woods behind the apartment building to find the vulture. But its talons were too huge, its claws too sharp and its build too muscular. This was no vulture. Long had killed a bald eagle, which he would learn is a federal offense.

"I was like, uh-oh," Long, 31, of Bushwood said last night. "I hoped it would disappear. I figured nature would take its course, and something would come along and drag it away -- but no."

About two weeks later, on March 21, a neighbor found the dead bird and called police. Yesterday, state wildlife authorities announced that Long was one of two men who have been fined for killing bald eagles in unrelated cases in Maryland involving the national icon.

Long pleaded guilty in federal court Aug. 8 to shooting the eagle. He was fined $2,500 and placed on probation. His hunting license was revoked for a year, said Sgt. Ken Turner, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police.

Long had shot and killed other wildlife from the porch of his St. Mary's County home, including turkey vultures, a skunk and a woodchuck, Turner said.

Making his first public comments on the case, Long, who works for a stainless steel company in Waldorf, said he feels ashamed and embarrassed for what he called "a dumb accident."

"I feel terrible, especially now that we're at war," Long said. "There's a lot of patriotic sentiment out there. Some people might look at this like burning a flag."

He added: "I was just messing around and wanted to shoot a vulture one day and thought it was funny. So much for that. No more shooting in the back yard, I guess."

In a separate incident on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a Caroline County man was fined for accidentally poisoning a bald eagle. Robert N. Patrick Jr., 51, of Preston injected a pesticide into a chicken egg in an effort to poison foxes and raccoons that had preyed on chickens he raised, Turner said.

Patrick left the egg outside. A fox ate it and died, and a bald eagle then ate the carcass of the poisoned fox. The eagle was found dead Jan. 5, Turner said.

"Eagles don't pass up a free meal, so to speak," Turner said. "The eagle went down and fed on the fox carcass, and that's how the eagle was poisoned."

Patrick cooperated with federal and state authorities and paid a fine of $1,275, Turner said.

After being listed as endangered since 1967, the bald eagle was removed this year from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The national symbol has rebounded in the past four decades from 417 breeding pairs in the continental United States to about 10,000. Federal policies, including the Bald Eagle Protection Act, still bar killing the birds or disturbing their nests.

Bald eagles thrive near the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, which offer a habitat of tall trees near shorelines. Still, they are considered rare by wildlife experts.

"Every eagle counts," said Betsy Loyless, vice president of the National Audubon Society. "We clearly don't need human predation on bald eagles."

Glenn Therres, a Maryland state eagle biologist, said it is troubling that someone would kill a bald eagle.

"They're a national icon," Therres said of the birds. "They're a tremendous symbol for the Chesapeake Bay."

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