A contrarian view on eagle conservation

I had published this on Jameson Parker’s blog in response to a question and it occurred that it would make an interesting little essay. But some have misunderstood it, so let me give you my conclusions before my reasoning:

I don’t think (Golden) eagles are in any way endangered, but I support protection for them.

I don’t think wind power companies and other utilities should get an automatic free pass  on killing eagles.

I don’t think any Indian tribes without a strong religious reason for taking eagles should be allowed to do so (I am encouraged that at least one pueblo now keeps live eagles, and attempts to breed them). I think that commercial exploitation of eagles and other birds of prey for their feathers by anyone is deplorable, and ideally should be ended. In today’s world, I doubt that it will.

The legal take of no more than six eagles for falconry was something that put less pressure on the population than any other conceivable use, and even added to the Indians and wind farms, would have a negligible effect. In all likelihood allowing ANY falconer who qualified to take an eagle would not make any difference. If officials were really worried about this, they could mandate that trained eagles be released into the wild after ten years as the Kazakhs do.

In the ideal world, conservation decisions should be based on biology. In our real world, they can’t be, not entirely anyway. Still, using a little information and pretending to a bit less hypocrisy would be welcome. And another thought: the educational value of trained eagles is not to be dismissed.

So, here it is:

I have a bit of a heretical stance about Golden eagles re wind farms. I dislike the amount of kills allowed for wind farms. But whether or
not the population is harmed needs at least two questions answered. One
is how many (Golden) eagles there are; the other is what else takes them
out of (breeding) circulation.

The first is never discussed except among biologists– it is as though
certain enviros do not want to ever say anything optimistic. The number
of Bald eagles got brought low, partly by persistent pesticides, and
now increases as it becomes ever more tolerant of human society. But the
number of known Golden nests (or rather the reasonably accepted
extrapolated number ) is AND MAY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN almost inconceivably
high, so high I am not inclined to quote it without access to the actual
data, except five figures of pairs in North America. (There are two
nesting pairs I know of within ten miles of where I write these notes).
This is never publicized, but you can track it down. The data is not
from livestock or energy apologists, either. Remember, there is an
untouched Arctic population, and ones in Labrador that seem to eat
herons in breeding season. The golden is so adaptable that there is a
Greek population that eats mostly tortoises. I doubt wind turbines will
dent those numbers or scare them away.

The Texans used to shoot hundreds every year and it seems to have
done little biological harm. Now wind farms are allowed to kill several
hundred a year, and Navajos and other Native peoples are allowed not
only unlimited hunting but utterly unlimited access to such species as Red- tailed hawks, not to train but to sell feathers. Which works out in
practice that every delinquent kid on a troubled reservation sees a
hawk on a pole and shoots it. Then probably sells it. While there are
serious religious uses of eagles by the Pueblos, there is also an
internal market, really illicit, in feathers for tribal dance outfits,
competitive and lucrative- and some sympathetic judges have decided
these commercial competitions are protected too. (Meanwhile one pueblo
has modified its ceremonies to no longer kill eagles, and has hired a
biologist to teach them how to keep them in a healthy way!)

Many activist types hate falconry as intolerable meddling with
romantic symbols, but a falconer’s eagle is not even lost from the
population– only “on loan” so to speak. The Kazakhs I rode with in Asia
let them go to breed after ten years, and eagles commonly live to over
30. Until now falconers were a allowed a take of  6 wild-caught Golden eagles a year, only from areas in Wyoming and the Dakotas with
proven sheep predation problems. Right now the government is inclined to
end this benign “use”. I wish that moralists and humane activists would
not go after the tiny portion of eagles allowed to falconers! If we
allow a small kill harvest from the tribes, an unknown yet amount for
wind farms, oil wells, roads and such, and want a healthy population… we
HAVE to set fairly rigid quotas to be safe. But known numbers could
easily allow a live take of up to six (or ten or whatever– except I
don’t think that there will ever be that many eaglers), some of which
would eventually even breed.

Meanwhile, in the warden- free lands of most reservations eagles
still exist only because of apathy– there is no protection. Ranchers
under 60 are more or less benign, and don’t shoot them (wolves are far
more threatening in both reality and reputation), but some angry young
rez kids kill every sitting bird they see, and sell the feathers no
matter what, as a demonstration that they “own” them Some tribes have
made clear falconers shouldn’t get any quota, because they are religious
symbols! A bit of Googling would show us the old regs, under which we
existed and complained for decades, while Texans shot hundreds or maybe
even thousands (see Don Scheuler’s Incident at Eagle Ranch), were uninformed– they now seem almost as unimaginable as
photos of the aerial dogfights with eagles when they were hunted from
planes. But, counterintuitively, they were probably biologically harmless
in that they didn’t– because they couldn’t– wipe out eagles. Morally
though, making dead eagles a commodity for anyone looks worse to me than
wind farms; commerce can drive extinction like stoking a fire.

        (Photo above from Life Magazine in 1953, from an eagle shooter’s view in Texas)

Why not reasonable quotas for falconers’ birds? Fewer privileges for
Indians, at least ones with no religious stake, as those don’t have the
built- in cultural reverence? And less posturing from anti- wind people
at least about eagles aka Charismatic Megafauna (the turbines may
actually be worse for bats, a group far more threatened than the Golden
eagle!)

Not Even Wrong

“Not even wrong” is a phrase you hear  a lot if you hang out with scientists; it came up constantly last week in conversations with Arthur Wilderson and gunblogger- writer  Nate Fitch (photo below). I think I first heard it when I hung out at MIT — no, I never studied there, just hung out, for years, another chapter in a very speculative autobiography. It means, to an extent, that the person uttering the statement or (more commonly) asking the  question is so unequipped to understand the implications of what he is asking that he should go back and get a master’s degree in  the subject before he asks it again, at which point he probably WON’T.

From Wikipedia:

“The phrase “not even wrong” describes any argument that
purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually
in that it contains a terminal logical fallacy or it cannot be falsified
by experiment (i.e. tested with the possibility of being rejected), or
cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world.

“The phrase is generally attributed to Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which “a friend showed Pauli the paper of a
young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which
he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong’.

“… Peierls … quotes another example when
Pauli replied to Lev Landau, “What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not. 

Young writers, polymaths, taxonomists, dino
fanboys, gun scholars, on flying winter visit, after three days talking
about all that stuff, with tired but vastly entertained older hosts, as they get ready to return to Colorado: