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4 bald eagles found shot to death

SEATTLE — Four bald eagles were found shot to death in a Granite Falls lake last week, and Washington Fish and Wildlife has posted a reward for information leading to the conviction of their killer.

Officers suspect the birds were shot from their perches in the trees.

“They dropped into the lake, and that’s where they were found floating,” said Department of Fish & Wildlife Sgt. Jennifer Maurstad.

The eagles are being sent to a lab to be X-rayed.

“The cause of death is pretty obvious,” Maurstad noted, “but if we can retrieve the bullets, at least we can match it up to something.”

It appears they were shot with a small-caliber rifle, she said.

Just as puzzling as the identity of the killer is the question of motive.

It’s unusual in Washington state to find eagles that have been intentionally killed. But investigators say eagle parts can fetch hundreds of dollars on the black market. They’re used in everything from high-end artwork to Wiccan ceremonies to Native American powwows. The black market can be so lucrative, investigators say, that the birds are sometimes referred to as “flying $1,000 bills.”

But in this case, the carcasses were left floating in a lake.

“I don’t think he had any intention of profiting from them,” Maurstad said. “I think it was just a spur-of-the-moment opportunity.”

She said the birds probably were an easy mark. Their perches aren’t far from the road, the trees aren’t that tall, and eagles are often spotted in this particular corner of Snohomish County. The agency is withholding the exact location for investigative purposes.

Under state and federal law, it is illegal to kill an eagle or possess any of their parts — even just a feather — without a permit. Under state law, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, plus $2,000 to $3,000 in fines.

A reward of $13,750, most of it from the Stillaguamish Tribe, has been offered for information leading to a conviction.

Said Maurstad, “This is the first time in my 11 years I’ve investigated anything like this.”

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