IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) — A proposed bill wants to make Iowans face a harsher penalty when it comes to killing the nation’s emblem, the bald eagle.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates there were 40 eagle deaths in recent years. Not all of them were shot.
The state penalty in Iowa is $50 fine for killing an eagle. A revived bill wants to push that to a $2,500 which would match the federal fine.
“Which is tragic when you think about our national emblem,” Republican Representative Terry Baxter, of Garner, said.
Rep. Baxter is behind the bill to increase the penalty. He introduced it last legislative session but he said time ran out to get it up for debate.
“I work very closely with different people from the Department of Natural Resources. Two years ago I discovered Iowa had a disparity with the way we have our fines set up when killing an eagle,” Baxter said, during a phone interview with KWWL.
Baxter said ideally with the state fine being higher, more cases can be handled within the state.
“It automatically has to go to the federal court for a hearing because the Iowa law code does not really give a basis to do any prosecuting in a way that would be financially feasible,” he said.
The bill does have the support of the raptor advocacy out of Iowa City, The RARE Group.
“[Eagles] are very important for the health of our environment which we rely upon for our own well-being,” Luke Hart said.
Hart is a volunteer with The Rare Group. The non-profit organization takes in injured birds and rehabilitates them back into the wild.
Hart said right now the group is working with an eagle poisoned by lead. He said the majority of the birds they treat are injured in inadvertent accidents, for example, car crashes.
“Setting an arbitrary amount, it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
It’s in their job to help protect the species through not only rehab but education. While Hart supports the bill, he said more education is also a key piece in being advocates for the species.
“I do believe these measures need to be in place,” he said. “Punishment does need to be there for incidents but I feel it’s much stronger to incentivize and inspire people to do what’s right, rather than have to wait to do something wrong just to punish them.”
The bill has passed through subcommittees and is on the docket to be debated on the house floor. It does not apply to accident injuries like car accidents.
The bald eagle has made a great comeback in its population since being taken off the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 2007.
Bald eagles are federally protected. All migratory birds fall under the Migratory Birds Treat Act which prohibits taking, killing, possessing, transporting and importing migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests.
The maximum federal penalty under the act can mean two years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. A misdemanor conviction can land someone at the most a six month sentence and a $5,000 fine.