KENAI - Two additional birds of prey have been caught in traps over the past week, bringing the total numbers of birds to be accidentally caught this season to three.
"There seems to be an increased report of birds being caught in traps," said Liz Jozwiak, a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and a biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "Typically its just one every two or three years."
The first bird reported was an adult bald eagle spotted in the Robinson Loop area in early December with a small trap -- possibly set for mink or muskrat -- and chain around one talon. Throughout the month the bird was also seen in the Moose Range Meadows area on the south side of the Kenai River.
However, it is speculated that this bird may have recently gotten the trap off itself.
"I've gotten calls from people who had previously seen the bird," Jozwiak said. "They haven't seen the eagle with the trap, but have recently seen a eagle with an injured foot, so their belief is the bird may have gotten it off."
The other two birds of prey were not so fortunate.
The second bird was a fist-sized saw whet owl, caught in another small trap set along the Kenai River, which was brought into the refuge on Jan. 6.
"It was brought in alive, but didn't make it," Jozwiak said.
The third bird was an immature bald eagle caught in a conibear trap near Tustumena Lake on Jan 7. This bird did not survive.
Shay Hurd, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer investigating the incident could not comment on the specifics of the case since the investigation is still ongoing, but he did offer advice for prevent incidents such as this from occurring.
"Every trapper should evaluate and reevaluate their sets to make sure they're doing everything right," he said.
Jozwiak also stated that to avoid this type of scenario all traps should be fastened securely, and trappers should ensure sets are 30 feet or more from exposed bait, or on trails to the carcass.
Mike Crawford, president of the Kenai Peninsula Trappers Association, said he isn't convinced the person responsible for these incidents is a trapper, at least not a responsible and ethical trapper.
"Just because somebody uses a trap doesn't mean they're a trapper," he said. "It's like someone using a rifle to shoot a moose in their yard. Does that make them a hunter?"
Crawford said he couldn't speculate as to who, how or why so many birds are suddenly being caught in traps, but he said it is likely not being intentionally done.
"I can almost guarantee it's not what they're trying to trap, and if it is, they're not a trapper, they're a poacher," he said. "Trappers try to avoid dogs, birds, all incidental catches, because it ruins the set and it reflects negatively on trapping."
Crawford said whether this is a would-be "trapper" just starting out, or - less likely, but still possible - a seasoned trapper being lackadaisical, the association will stand behind the prosecution of anyone performing illegal trapping activities.
"People who follow the rules already are, and those who already aren't, aren't going to start," he said. "But (association) trappers are responsible, ethical and do a good job of preventing incidental catches. Our members are doctors, lawyers, (and) business owners. We're not just a bunch of outlaws. So whoever is doing this isn't the norm, they're the exception."