Alaska Town Bans Feeding of Bald Eagles

Hundreds of bald eagles that gather at the Homer spit each winter for handouts won't be so lucky now that the city council has passed an ordinance barring the feeding of eagles.

The city council adopted the ordinance on Monday. It passed on a 4-2 vote.

Homer acted one month after the state Board of Game declined to regulate the practice of eagle feeding. The state regulators said the problems were local and the jurisdiction federal.

The new law bars deliberate feeding of eagles, ravens, crows and gulls beginning next winter. It provides an exception for 82-year-old Jean Keene, the famous "Eagle Lady" who has been feeding eagles on the Spit for 25 years. But even Keene's program must end by 2010, the City Council ruled.

"We're still going to have eagles in Homer," said Councilman Val McLay, who consulted with Keene in working out the final compromise.

The first groups to be affected will be guided photography "safaris" that come to Homer in late winter and sometimes draw eagles into wide-angle camera range with baitfish.

McLay said he delayed enforcement of the ordinance so that photographers with reservations could still come this year.

"You don't have to have hundreds of eagles to take a photograph," said McLay, who heard protests from out-of-town photographers about his proposal.

Opposition in Homer to eagle feeding has grown in recent years. Critics say eagles waiting for handouts are unnatural and demeaning. They say the crowding is unhealthy for the eagles — not to mention unsafe for small pets and birds such as sea ducks.

Government biologists generally frowned on the practice but stopped short of calling for regulation.

Supporters called the eagle feeding a novelty whose alleged harms have never been studied, much less proved. They also pointed to the small economic boost to winter tourism.