DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers are again being asked to increase the state penalty for shooting bald eagles from $50 to $2,500, which is the same as the federal fine for shooting the national symbol.
“It’s not that there are people out there hunting bald eagles, but there are people just doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” Dale Garner of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told a House subcommittee Monday.
The department does not collect data on eagle mortality, but said around six eagles are shot each year. Previously, the DNR estimated about 40 eagle deaths in recent years, but not all of them were shot. Eagles were removed from federal endangered species protection in 2007. Three were killed last year, according to Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf.
A similar bill was approved by a subcommittee in 2018. No groups registered in opposition, but was not debated by the full House.
Kay Neumann of Saving Our Avian Resources told legislators Monday that the group’s Carroll County-based rehabilitation center works with about 50 bald eagles a year and 8 percent of them were shot. Half of those shot experienced lead poisoning from lead ammunition, and it’s often is fatal, he said.
Even though lead poisoning is a bigger problem, increasing the state penalty to the same level as the federal fine for shooting an eagle would be a “wonderful deterrent and give our conservation officers something extra to work with,” Neumann said.
Conservation officers have discretion when it comes to charging people who have shot an eagle if there are mitigating circumstances, Garner said.
“But it’s pretty difficult not to know what an eagle is,” he added.
If the penalty for illegally selling, taking, catching, killing, injuring, destroying or possessing an eagle is increased to $2,500, it would match the fines for killing elk, antelope, moose and buffalo — animals for which there is no hunting season in Iowa, Garner said.