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Farmer Faced Jail And $200,000 Fine For ‘Eagle Crime’

bald eagles horses farmer fineA farmer is being fined $1,500 by the US government essentially because her backhoe broke down. The farmer, Debra Dwelly, was slapped with the fine because of events that were far beyond her control.

Her “crime”? Leaving horse carcasses on her property for too long. What’s worse is that Dwelly could have faced fines of up to $200,000 and a year in federal prison for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and another federal law.

Tragedy leads to fine

Dwelly’s problems began in March 2013, when two horses on her property near Winlock in Washington state became very ill. The horses were suffering so badly that they had to be euthanized by a vet. Dwelly described the horses as old and crippled.

Dwelly and a friend planned to use a backhoe to bury the horses the same day. Unfortunately, the backhoe broke down so the horses’ bodies were left lying out on the ground, where seven eagles fed on them. The eagles were apparently sickened by sodium pentobarbital, a drug that veterinarians use to euthanize sick animals.

“We never, ever thought we were endangering wildlife at all,” Dwelly, an animal lover who runs a well-known horse rescue operation said, according to the local Daily-News newspaper. “We tried to do the right thing by having them euthanized. If the backhoe hadn’t broken down, we would have buried them. It was an honest mistake.”

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A neighbor, Sharon Thomas, saw the eagles behaving oddly and tried to help them. Thomas described the eagles as being drunk.

What the law says

“It was heart-wrenching,” Thomas said. “Seeing a large, majestic bird falling over on its head is very sad. Picking them up, seeing them unresponsive and lethargic. Picking up the two others that seemed dead, their eyes were not open, they were barely breathing.”

Seven eagles were eventually captured and taken to a wild bird sanctuary, where one of them died. Six of the birds recovered and were released into the wild. Witnesses claimed that other eagles got sick but escaped before they could be captured and treated.

The US Fish and Wildlife Services investigated and discovered the dead horses on Dwelly’s property. She hired someone else, with a working backhoe, to bury the animals. The services waited until December to fine Dwelly $1,500.

Failing to dispose of livestock carcasses is illegal. Poisoning bald eagles, even inadvertently, is also illegal.

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