Published September 12, 2010
Would you kill eagles to save herons?Sharon Wootton, Contributing writer
Some time ago I wrote about the encroaching barred owl into the endangered spotted owl territory, and that deadly force is being considered to protect the spotted against the more aggressive barred. I asked readers: Should we kill one species to protect another? The responses were split in half, but there was one response that was most thoughtful. Nancy Hanna wrote that she and her husband, Eric Slagle, favored killing barred owls to protect a viable population of spotted owls. “We have a similar concern about great blue herons. At the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, I used to count 80 or more great blue heron nests. Bald eagles wiped them out, eating eggs and killing chicks. This wonderful roost is no more, and the great blue heron population is greatly reduced.” In west Olympia, a small roost existed on a hillside overlooking Puget Sound. Eagles are preying on the eggs and chicks and reducing the heron population, Hanna said. “We would be in favor of killing bald eagles in order to keep a viable great blue heron population (although there would be) interesting political ramifications. What do you think?” Notice how Hanna put the opinion opportunity back in my lap, probably because I hadn’t offered one in that column. In the broadest sense, we already kill deer, waterfowl, pheasants, lambs and cattle for our consumption. We kill animals for trophies, destroy other life forms by our sheer existence, kill mice and rats, and want coyotes and raccoons killed even though it’s our bad habits that keep attracting them to urban areas. We also thin herds of various species so the other animals can live better lives, and remove or kill sea lions to protect salmon, which we also kill. It would be hypocritical of me to argue that we shouldn’t kill eagles because we shouldn’t kill one species to protect another. We kill millions of animals every year for our benefit, and our species is not endangered. An argument can be made that it is simply a survival-of-the-fittest situation. But we have helped make a disproportionate target of great blue heron roosts because our homes have spread across the land, destroying habitat for countless roosts. I believe that it forces heron into fewer roosts, making eagle attacks more harmful than they would have been had there been more roosts spread over a wider territory. So yes, I would support killing eagles to protect the great blue heron roost but only after every thoughtful and creative method has been has been exhausted; and only destroying our national symbol that attack the roosts during their most vulnerable times. I’m glad to hear someone speaking for the great blue herons, or spotted owls, or any other species threatened because humans have totally changed the balance of nature in so many cases. Political ramifications? Letters to the editor? Protests against killing the eagles? Lawsuits? Ya betcha. Perhaps we should have taken Ben Franklin’s advice and made a different choice for our national symbol. I can’t imagine a hue and cry over killing a turkey. Dandelions: Although she didn’t leave her name (readers: please leave your name), one woman wanted to share a story. “We were really broke ... but my grandchildren had two guinea pigs. Every day I’d take a huge bucket and pick dandelion leaves all over the neighborhood. Those guinea pigs loved the dandelions. They ate dandelions before the pellets.” So she was able to buy less commercial food and save money, as well as provide a pair of guinea pigs a culinary delight. Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.