Rob Domenech is an eagle expert who founded the nonprofit Raptor View Research Institute, based in Missoula. For two decades, he's been studying eagles and other raptors—tracking populations and migration routes, testing for the accumulation of toxins such as lead. Usually, Domenech is trying to assess incidental impacts, such as whether energy development along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana and Alberta is affecting golden eagle migration. But lately he's observed a more acute threat: poison.
"We're suddenly seeing a spike in the number of reported [poisonings]," Domenech says.
State and federal wildlife officials are investigating a rash of eagle poisonings in the greater Missoula area. A couple of weeks ago, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks asked the public for information on two golden eagles that were found dead near Bear Creek, off the Fish Creek drainage west of Alberton. The state wildlife lab in Bozeman confirmed that the eagles were poisoned. Another apparently poisoned golden eagle was found dead on a ranch east of Florence in mid-April. Earlier in April, two poisoned bald eagles were found in the Lolo area. Domenech wonders how many more might have gone unnoticed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with FWP, has launched an investigation. FWS Agent Rick Branzell didn't return calls seeking comment. FWP's game warden in Superior, Justin Singleterry, who's heading up the agency's investigation of the Bear Creek poisonings, declined to comment.
Domenech posits that eagles may not be the intended targets. "It could be people are trying to kill coyotes and wolves," he says. "There seems to be a bit of a wolf hysteria going on." Then, too, some landowners see golden eagles, especially, as pests. The birds of prey with seven-foot wingspans have long been persecuted by sheep ranchers for killing lambs.