101st Airborne Honored with Eagle Release in Smokies
Eagles Released: Young eagles take flight in Tennessee
By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
August 4, 2003
DANDRIDGE, Tenn. (AP) _ From a hacking tower above a still-water cove on Douglas Lake, four young eagles took flight Monday as part of the continuing effort to restore the nation’s symbol to America’s skies.
“It is awe-inspiring to see one up close and to see it actually take flight for the first time,” said Staff Sgt. Henry Schmitz of the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles.”
Schmitz and Cpl. Gregory Davis, both recently returned from Iraq, were invited to open the tower’s cages. One by one, the neophyte flyers spread their 3-foot wings and swooped into the woods.
Three left quickly, but a fourth eagle waited more than an hour before leaving its man-made perch.
“That’s wildlife, they never do what you want them to do,” laughed Barron Crawford, a visiting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent.
Two bald eagles and two golden eagles — one male and one female of each — were released Monday. One was named ‘Screaming Eagle’ to honor the 101st Airborne Division. Another was named ‘Bastogne’ by the children of Fort Campbell for an important World War II battle fought by the 101st.
The eagles’ fate was uncertain, said Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation that raised and released the birds.
“There is just no way to determine how well they will do. It just depends on what they encounter out in the wild and if God is on their sides,” he said.
An eagle can live to be 40 in the wild, but half die in the first year and dangers from hunters, power lines and man-made poisons abound, Cecere said.
The foundation, based at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, has been a leading advocate and educator in the eagle recovery movement, particularly with its trained eagle ‘Challenger’ making appearances at the World Series and other major sporting events.
Nationally, the bald eagle population is slowly increasing — from about 300 pairs in the 1960s to about 6,000 pairs today. Some say it’s time to remove the bird from the Endangered Species Act, where it was first listed in 1980 and upgraded to ‘threatened’ in 1995.
But B.J. Dohrmann, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman who is arranging a major fund-raising campaign for the foundation, said, “It is clear that we are not out of the woods yet. We are at a turning point right now.”
Bald eagle populations increased nearly 2 percent annually from 1986-2000 across most of the lower 48 states, the U.S. Geological Survey reported in July. But gains varied widely: eagles increased by 6 percent in the Northeast; 1.5 percent in the Southeast, and 1.1 percent in the Northwest, while their population dropped 0.7 percent in the Southwest.
The American Eagle Foundation has released 71 eagles since the 1980s. Thirty-six were born to permanently injured and non-releaseable birds at the foundation’s headquarters, including all four birds released Monday.
Wildlife officials identified about 50 active eagle nests in Tennessee this year, up from 44 last year. Most are in West Tennessee, with few in the East Tennessee region around the Great Smoky Mountains.
Despite 12 years of releases from the Douglas Lake hack tower, about 50 miles north of Knoxville, only two eagle nests have been confirmed on the lake. Still, Cecere is optimistic.
“We are just hoping that someday my children and your grandchildren will be able to come out on Douglas Lake and have the opportunity to see a bald eagle flying free out here,” he said. “Hopefully there will be quite a few of them. “Because that is what this is all about, just keep releasing eagles until a couple of nests take hold and they start producing young year after year.”
Monday, August 4 , 2003
PIGEON FORGE, TN – Some of the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles are back from Iraq and heading to Pigeon Forge to see real eagles gain their Freedom! On August 4th, the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) will release two 13-week-old Bald Eaglets and two 13-week-old Golden Eaglets, hatched and raised at their Dollywood facility, into the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Soldiers from the 101st Airborne’s Division’s headquarters at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky will assist AEF staff in freeing the majestic birds on Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tennessee. The release ceremony will honor the 101st Airborne’s service from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There are still over 18,000 members of the 101st Airborne serving their country overseas.
“This will be the first taste of freedom for these young eagles” said Al Cecere, President of the non-profit eagle preservation group. “It’s a real honor to pay tribute to the brave men and women who defend our nation and protect our democratic ideals.”
The four eaglets have been dubbed with special names. Children associated with Ft. Campbell participated in a contest to name one of the birds ‘Bastone’ after a famous battle the 101st Airborne fought in during World War II. The AEF has named one ‘Screaming Eagle’ in honor of the 101st. ‘Mr. Fulton’ was chosen by students at Robert Fulton Elementary School of North Bergen, New Jersey as part of an annual nation-wide “Name An American Eaglet” Contest sponsored by AEF and available to its members. ‘Michael Archangel’ was named by an AEF supporter, Bernie Dohrmann of IBI Global.
For the past seven weeks, the birds have been cared for by AEF staff with minimum human contact in an artificial nesting (“hacking”) tower overlooking a secluded lake cove. Eaglets typically leave the nest at 12 or 13 weeks of age, when they are fully-grown.
The eagle hacking program is operated by the American Eagle Foundation in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and its primary corporate sponsor Dollywood.
Founded in 1985, the non-profit American Eagle Foundation (www.eagles.org) headquartered at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood entertainment park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has become a non-governmental leader in eagle conservation over the past seventeen years.
Since 1991, Foundation staff has traveled coast-to-coast conducting numerous public education programs with trained non-releasable eagles and other birds of prey. It has presented well over 9,000 educational free-flight birds of prey shows.
The Foundation is federally licensed to provide care to over 70 birds of prey daily, including about 35 eagles. These birds are non-releasable due to permanent physical and other disabilities. Many of the eagles residing at the Foundation’s bird facility have mated and successfully hatched young in captivity. The organization operates the largest Bald Eagle breeding program in the world, and has released (hacked) dozens of such eaglets into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains area and other places. It also has been a party to releasing hundreds of other eaglets into the wilds in cooperation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and has supported numerous public education and eagle care/recovery projects in various States. Since 1990, the Dollywood entertainment park has been the primary corporate sponsor of the Foundation.