Story last updated at 7:52 PM on Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Council gives ‘Eagle Lady’ feeding rights

Permission expires in 2010

By Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

Beginning June 1, the “Eagle Lady” will be the only person who can feed eagles within Homer city limits.

Homer Spit resident Jean Keene, who has been feeding eagles for more than 25 years, received a special exemption from the Homer City Council Monday which passed a ban on feeding eagles and other wild predatory and scavenger birds.



  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home
You call this a storm? A bald eagle clings to a driftwood branch at Mariner Park last Thursday during a little blizzard blowing out of the east.  
Keene will be able to continue to feed eagles on the Homer Spit until April 2010.

Everyone else, including several Outside photography groups, will be fined for the practice, now added to the city’s public nuisance list that includes messy barns and manure piles among others.

According to the new ordinance, the city will fine those convicted of intentionally feeding bald eagles, crows, common ravens and gulls up to $50 for their first offense and $25 to $200 for each subsequent offense.

Homer’s police and animal control departments will be charged with writing tickets.

The controversial move to ban eagle feeding in Homer came on the heels of a recent Alaska Board of Game decision that deferred any action to local and federal regulators.

Keene’s exemption came as an amendment to the ban ordinance and mirrored advice by Homer’s Fish and Game Advisory Board and several area residents who said a citywide ban on eagle feeding would hurt 82-year-old Keene more than anyone.

Proponents of the ban said eagle feeding was a public health and safety issue, citing an increased chance of disease among birds and humans.

Area resident Ed Bailey, who proposed a ban at the state level, said he was pleased with the city’s action.

“It’ll continue until June, we can live with that,” Bailey said. “All in all I’m happy to see it. It’s a major precedent. Hopefully the state or federal government will get involved now.”

Council member Val McLay, who wrote the ban ordinance and the amendment, said the compromise for Keene was an attempt to make it a policy, not a personal issue.

McLay also rebuffed claims by many that such a ban would hurt a growing winter tourism industry.

“It’s not going to stop people taking pictures of eagles on the Homer Spit,” McLay said.

Palmer resident Cary Anderson, the author of a book about Keene, however, said the idea behind the ban — that there are too many eagles on the Homer Spit — is false.

“Homer doesn’t have any more eagles than Southeast (Alaska) or the Aleutian Islands,” Anderson said. “It’s not a thing Homer should be worried about. They’re something Homer should embrace.”

Word of the ban spread rapidly Tuesday morning among photographers in Homer and the Lower 48.

Several photographers have already made plans to come to Homer this winter to photograph eagles, and with the ban not taking affect until June, they said they plan on getting as many images as they can this year.

Daytona Beach, Fla., resident Rick Kessler said he will take four trips to Alaska this year, photographing birds and bears.

He said he will be in Homer in early March and had mixed feelings about the ban.

“The joy of eagles there is that people do feed them and they get close and you can get good shots,” Kessler said.

But he said he didn’t like watching the birds attack each other over food.

“I love to photograph them, but I don’t want to see birds hurt one another,” Kessler said.

He said he knows of three other groups besides his that are coming to Homer to photograph eagles this year, and he said he doesn’t think the ban will kill eagle photography on the Homer Spit.

“Nature photography is about pat-ience,” he said. “All that means is that we have to be more patient.”

Ben Stuart can be reached at ben.stuart@homernews.com.

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