November 8, 2012 | Volume 42, Number 45

18th eagle festival starts Wednesday

The fall migration of eagles and eagle-viewers to Haines will include Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon.

Mitchell will serve as banquet speaker at the 18th annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival, a five-day event that starts Wednesday.

Biologists, bird handlers, naturalists, photographers, artists and musicians are part of the festival that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines.

Besides live eagle feedings, festival presentations will include ones on eulachon research, paralytic shellfish poisoning, raptor vision, sea lions of Lynn Canal, effects of lead in nature and research about the fall migration of eagles to the Chilkat Valley.

Researcher Rachael Wheat will share information on a project in which she is fixing radio beacons to seven local eagles and Dr. Taal Levi will address “Bears and the Ecology and Ecosystem-based Management of Pacific Salmon.”

The foundation’s “junior handlers,” local students trained to handle raptors, will present “An Evening with the Owls,” using some of the foundation’s 12 resident birds. Photography and wood-carving workshops will be offered, as will a class on handling injured birds.

There’s a kind of chemistry to putting on the festival that’s not unlike how the foundation came together in the late 1970s, said founder Dave Olerud. “You go out and stir the pot and pieces come together,” he said.

Thirty years ago, the downturn of the logging industry led to the formation of the Haines Independent Business Association, which met in groups working toward the goal of stoking the local economy. Ideas ranged from developing a ski resort to promoting the valley as a transportation corridor.

“It just so happens I was given the bald eagle because I was in the sporting goods business,” Olerud said. His idea, he said, was to create a summer attraction that would make visitors appreciate what was here in winter, particularly the eagles. “I had to convince people this bird had some value.”

In 1982, for the 200th anniversary of the United States adopting the eagle as its national symbol, Olerud commissioned creation of 3,000 commemorative rifles to start building funds for an eagle foundation. He also sold lifetime memberships in his new group for $1,000. More than 100 people came forward to buy them.

The income was the seed money for a project that continues to grow in size and scope, he said. “The end result has changed the whole mentality of Haines. It’s an economy. People say there’s not a room available in town during the (festival) time. We say, that’s a good thing,” Olerud said.

Like the festival, the foundation changes over time. It added live birds in recent years and to the gratification of Olerud – who once worked as a teacher – developed a cadre of youths who handle, display and explain the birds to visitors. “We have local, 11- and 12-year-olds working here and they’re doing a remarkable job,” he said.

The festival is hosting astronaut Mitchell because filmmaker Steve Kroschel was working with Mitchell on a separate project. “Kroschel Films was kind enough to bring it together for us,” Olerud said. On Nov. 7, about two dozen tickets were still available for Mitchell’s talk.

As lunar module pilot on the Apollo 14 mission in January 1971, Mitchell spent nine hours on the moon. He and mission commander Alan Shepard made two excursions on the lunar surface, setting up a nuclear-powered science station, collecting 42 kilograms of moon rocks and taking core samples, according to the website Astronautix.

A video and photographs of Mitchell’s moonwalk is to play during his presentation. A question and answer session also will be held.

An account of Mitchell’s experience on the moon can be found in his book, “The Way of the Explorer,” available at the bookstore on Main Street.

Release of a rehabilitated eagle during the festival is set for 1 p.m. Saturday in Klukwan. It will be followed by a dedication of new totems at the village ANS Hall.

Bill McRoberts and Matt Shetzer are festival photographers. They’ll lead workshops through Saturday. Master carver Jim Heaton of Haines is the festival’s featured artist.

For more details on the festival, go to the foundation’s website, www.baldeagles.org or call it at 766-3094. A printed, updated schedule of festival events will be available at the foundation early next week.

The festival generally coincides with the peak of the annual migration of eagles to locations along the Chilkat River.