Connect with us


The New West: Why don’t we hunt bald eagles for the sport of it?

Avatar photo



CREDIT: David J Swift

By Todd Wilkinson EBS Environmental Columnist

In case you’re wondering where the thinking of some Westerners is—note, I am using the adjective “some” here—you need look no further than social media.

This week a few citizens from the great state of Idaho informed me that I am a bunny-loving, tree-hugging, greenie who is anti-hunting, anti-predator-killing, and an “anti-human snowflake libtard” who does not understand “Western culture.”

Actually, most of those sentiments were expressed in more, shall we say, “colorful” language—words my wife and I typically don’t use while sitting around the family dinner table with our kids.

In their Facebook valentines, the commenters let me know my brain is comprised of the material that normally comes out a horse’s backside, and that my head itself resides in that part of the anatomy where the sun doesn’t shine.

They were responding to a long story I’d written on the science behind bear spray titled “To live or die in bear country: Counting the seconds in your grizzly moment of truth” posted at

They made it clear that nobody was going to tell them what to do, that they don’t have to believe the statistical data related to bear spray if they don’t want to, and that if they ever run into a grizzly, their way of resolving a perceived conflict will be with a gun.

They said that because I’ve raised questions over the years about the rationale for trophy hunting of Greater Yellowstone grizzlies, the staging of predator-shooting contests, and the government’s ongoing use of deadly cyanide poison and aerial gunners to kill coyotes, wolves and other animals. They say I am “anti-hunting,” “anti-rancher” and “anti-western heritage.”

While EBS’s policy on expletives prevents the publication of one comment in its entirety, there was a healthy smattering of words starting with the letter “F” and suggestive of disgust. The commenter wrote that the ESA says that when animals are removed from the list, then we “F—IN’ HUNT THEM, you stupid, worthless enviro LIBTARD!!!!! It’s the law, you f—head!!!!!” This person also wrote that predators are “destroying our elk herds, b—-!!!!”

So, here’s the thing. I acknowledge, humbly, that only a few of their assertions are inaccurate.

The following are a couple of corrections (including the false claim I am anti-hunting and anti-rancher): Nowhere in the language of the federal Endangered Species Act does it state that once an animal is removed from the list of imperiled species it shall be hunted.

The Endangered Species Act was instrumental in bringing back bald eagles and peregrine falcons from the brink. They are also “recovered” and they, too, are “predators.” So are golden eagles, osprey and red-tailed hawks.

Like grizzlies, humans don’t eat bald eagles and peregrine falcons. Somebody could probably argue that they’d make great decorative stuffed trophies on the wall.

Yet as a civilized society, we don’t hunt them, nor do we sponsor or allow eagle and peregrine-killing derbies in which prizes are offered to those who bag the most birds. We don’t trap them for their plumage and sell their feathers to commercial buyers. We don’t have wildlife management agencies claiming they need to balance budgets based on revenue generated through the sale of bald eagle tags. Why is that?

Why do most Westerners accept that bald eagles, even after removal from the Endangered Species Act, ought not be hunted for sport?

Bald eagles, even after ESA delisting, remain protected by federal laws. No one invokes “states’ rights” to say we should kill them—save maybe outlaws who, nodding and winking, might declare that, by God, they’re going to poach an eagle to get back at the government or practice the so-called sacred rural code of “shoot, shovel and shut-up.”

Most Westerners don’t scream bloody murder because they can’t legally wingshoot a golden eagle after eagles kill young domestic sheep or pronghorn fawns, or demand varmint status for osprey because they feast upon another huntable game species (trout), or argue that peregrines need to “managed” by sport hunters because they’re preying on huntable revenue-generating waterfowl.

The Idahoans are correct in their assertion that I struggle to find the logic both with using cyanide to control coyotes and the staging of predator-killing contests for the sheer fun of it. As for their assertion that wolves are destroying elk herds, it is not supported by fact.

Official information circulated by state game agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho shows that most elk hunting units are at, near, or above population objectives. Hunter success is pretty high in most places—a fact trumpeted even by outfitters and guides throughout the Rockies advertising pricey hunts to prospective clients.

If you want to know where the mythology of the old West still lives large, where facts and truth exist as casualties in a parallel universe detached from reality, you’ll find it on social media—and along with it, scriveners who are very fond of using exclamation points.

Todd Wilkinson, founder of Mountain Journal (, is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at His profile of Montana politician Max Baucus appears in the summer 2017 issue of Mountain Outlaw and is now on newsstands.


Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

Upcoming Events

october, 2022

Filter Events

No Events