My Turn: Do our presumptions harm the wildlife?

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2002

I began this article to thank the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for their quick removal of the eaglets from the endangered nest tree above the hillside shift on North Douglas on July 19.

After talking further with a Fish and Wildlife employee, I decided to change the focus because a possible alternative existed; the nest tree could have been secured, allowing the natural parents to finish raising their eaglets. Instead, because California's bald eagle population is endangered, arrangements have been made to take Alaska eaglets from their nests and finish raising them in California.

The parent eagles have been part of my life since September 2000 when I heard what sounded like a distressed eagle voice. I had walked in the area for about seven years and never knew of the nest upon which two young eagles perched. The parents, in nearby spruce trees, looked kind of raggedy. I sensed the young ones were not getting enough to eat, wrestled with my conscience over interfering with nature, and decided a few days later to help out. Very quickly the adults collected the food I left and, after a few bites, brought the rest to their squawking eaglets. I continued bringing food several times a week throughout September and was privileged to see one of the young raptors fledge and begin exploring the airspace in the nest vicinity.

During a huge storm my partner brought food for the second eaglet and was rewarded when it flew overhead chirping recognition. That night the nest blew out of the tree! Had we not brought food to help them strengthen, the babies might not have survived. (Neither of us attempted to interfere in any way other than to leave food periodically.)

I chose not to watch the Fish and Wildlife people take this year's eaglets because I didn't want the parent eagles associating me with the disappearance of their young. One of the parents circled the nest, obviously disturbed. And then their babies disappeared, the cycle of raising them incomplete, and all their focused energy since April when they sat on the eggs ended abruptly.

Friday evening I spotted one of the parents near the top of a favorite spruce perch. Sitting on the beach below the nest I asked for consent to visit and interact with them. My purpose was simply to spend time in their company, silently acknowledging their loss and attempting through non-verbal communication to apologize for our arrogance as a nature-disconnected species. I told them I was sorry their babies had been kidnapped. No one asked the parents whether they were willing to contribute their children to California's bald eagle repopulation project.

I continued my silent connection, explaining that the majority of our species no longer comprehends the ways of the natural world, that we have become a nature-conquering species who have created a story that says we have the right to do anything we want: chop down any and all trees to build structures, or burn them up - no difference; scrape the oceans with huge nets, throwing away whatever life forms aren't commercially valuable; poisoning our air and water so, in time, none can survive - some have already left; building whatever we want, never consulting nature in our discussions of where, when, and how we shall eliminate habitats (habitat is a word that means home for a multitude of living beings); never consulting the creatures in those areas who may have lived their longer than our species has existed - all because we can.

Eagle sat silent.

My world suddenly expanded to include eagle voices on the point and on the curve about a tenth of a mile away in either direction, as if they too shared with the grieving eagle parents in the mysterious disappearance of the innocent youth of their community.

The other parent arrived before I left, welcomed by its partner. They sat close together on the same limb, sometimes looking at each other as if asking where their babies had gone.

But, oh well, they can always lay more eggs next year, have more babies.

They don't speak English or Russian or Chinese or Spanish or any of our languages, so they must not have feelings like we do either, even though they mate for life, work together building their homes, and protect the space of their young the best they can. And certainly they don't grieve the loss of their young like we do - do they?

Carol Biggs is author and photographer of wild edible and medicinal plant pocket field guides and encourages looking to nature for spiritual wellness through the Alaska Nature Connection.

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