Saved Bald Eagle Returns To Wild As Rescuer Faces Wildlife Tampering Charges (Video)

| by Kathryn Schroeder

A man who rescued injured bald eagles continues to face charges of interfering with wildlife.

Steve Patterson, a wildlife photographer, discovered two bald eagles in June 2013 after their nest had blown out of a tree. One of the bald eagle’s appeared injured, and Patterson made the decision to bring both back to his home in Oglesby, Illinois.

“I could either get them and save them, or leave them and they could die,” Patterson said.

By doing so, Patterson violated the Illinois Wildlife Code, reports Chicago Sun Times.

The penalty is up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine for each of the four misdemeanor charges.

There are federal and state laws that prohibit people from touching or interfering with animals in the wild. There is also a federal wildlife good Samaritan law, and that is what Patterson has become “a poster child” for in Illinois as legislation to pass such a law in the state has been introduced.

Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-IL) has filed the bill, asking that the code be amended. House Bill 109 would allow any person who finds an injured, sick, or crippled wild animal to lawfully take possession of it and take it to a qualified rehab facility.

“It’s no different than a domesticated animal or even a human; if you have an injury and you can treat and rehabilitate, we ought to try and do that,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard views prosecutions against those who have been found to have tampered with wildlife with the intent to help “unnecessary and a waste” of state tax dollars.

After bringing the eagles home, Patterson contacted the Department of Natural Resources, and they told him to leave the birds alone. He had not mentioned to them that they were already in his garage, perched on sawhorses.

Patterson also contacted Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, reports NBC Chicago. They came to get the eagles and found that both, a male and a female, had wing fractures.

The eagles were raised at the rehab center by an injured adult eagle, and when the male eagle could fly confidently, they waited for adult eagles to return to Illinois so he could join them, said Flint Creek Director Dawn Keller.

Sam, the now 18-month-old bald eagle Patterson rescued, was released back into the wild on Jan. 1.

“He was so ready to go,” Keller said.

Sam was named “in honor of the good Samaritan law that he helped show us there was a dramatic need for,” Keller said.

The female eagle, named Patty after Patterson, is receiving physical therapy and Keller believes she will be ready for release later this year.

While Sam flies free, Patterson returns to court on Feb. 23 in La Salle County. The first trial against Patterson in 2014 ended in a hung jury.

La Salle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne is determined to pursue the case against Patterson given his record for wildlife tampering in Wisconsin and other run-ins with conservation police in the past.

“He thumbs his nose at nature and the law. All under the guise of being a hero,” Towne said.

"He did more harm to that eaglet than he did good," Towne stated. "Had Patterson not intervened with the experts dealing with the situation, that eaglet would not have had to be released after 18 months of incarceration.” 

Patterson has spent $20,000 defending himself against the county and he has no plans to stop.

“This ordeal has nothing to do with my actions,” Patterson said. “I just didn’t want to see these two birds die on the ground.”

Sources: NBC Chicago, Chicago Sun Times / Photo Source: Chicago Sun Times