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My turn: Spirit the eagle needs a new home

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A bald eagle sits in a crate at the top of Mount Roberts, gazing with his one good eye at the numerous people who come via tram or trail to see one of these incredible creatures up close.

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The eagle, named Spirit, was maimed by gunshot and is no longer able to live in the wild due to the extent of his injuries. This bird is being cared for by the Juneau Raptor Center, a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates birds when possible and, if they are unable to be released, employs them in educating the public.

The Mount Roberts enclosure is small for an eagle at roughly 12-by-8-by-8 feet. The Birds of Prey Foundation, a nonprofit rehabilitation group out of Colorado, lists the standard minimum housing specifications for bald eagles at 100-by-24-by-36 feet. Spirit seems cramped and stressed in the undersized coop, not surprising when his untamed nature is taken into account. While a sign hangs on the enclosure soliciting donations for the construction of a new, larger space, this is but one of the many projects the JRC has on its agenda, thus the project will have to take a backseat to the care of injured raptors. Meanwhile, the bird remains confined to this sub-par environment.

The Mount Roberts Tramway, as well as most of the complex that sits atop the mountain are owned by Goldbelt Inc., a for-profit Alaska Native corporation with more than $62 million and 32,000 acres of land around Juneau. The tram collects $25 for every adult and $13.50 for every child, adding a hefty daily sum to the company's already formidable assets.

Goldbelt's Web site states that tramway tickets include viewing of the Juneau Raptor Center's live bald eagle exhibit. If Goldbelt is using this eagle to sell tickets, shouldn't it donate a small portion of its substantial daily sales toward the well-being of this creature? This money could directly result in the building of a new enclosure, sooner than later.

As of now, none of the tram money goes toward the betterment of this battered bird's habitat, save once a year on Juneau Appreciation Day, when each $6 tram ticket sold goes toward the Raptor Center.

Goldbelt shouldn't have to carry the burden of this task alone, however. If Project Playground, with up to 480 volunteers a day and half a million dollars in donations, is any indication, this is not a community to shirk from a good cause. If a slim percentage of these volunteers and a mere slice of these funds were put toward a new home for Spirit, the enclosure could be built in a matter of weeks.

Most people who travel to the top of Mount Roberts probably aren't concerned with the sign, or the plight of this once mighty bird. They come to eat a meal, shop, walk along the trail and snap some pictures of the gorgeous sights from the top of one of Juneau's tallest peaks. Who can blame them? With so much to see and do in the short time they have here, it's no wonder they neglect to see the travesty of this wild animal being treated in this way. The people who live here have no such excuse.

Sigrid Noll Ueblacker, a member of the Birds of Prey Foundation, writes on the group's Web site, "There are worse things than death. Living in cramped isolation is one of them. Educating the public about our magnificent wildlife should never take precedence over quality of life for any creature."

Spirit the eagle has the potential to educate and enlighten vast numbers of people about magnificent creatures such as himself, but to offer up no recompense for his worth is to simply cage a wild creature for our own base amusement.

• Ryan Lancaster lives and works in Juneau.



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