Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: The Eagle Has Landed

Sep 22, 2017
Fort Report

Nestled in the heavily wooded hillsides along the Missouri River bottoms in Nebraska City is the exceptional Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. I made a quick trip there Monday. A nice-sized crowd had gathered in a light rain for the release of a giant bald eagle. Surrounded by cameras and kids, I found myself two feet from the extraordinary creature. I was captivated by his fearsome power-- its long mighty talons, the sharp twisting beak, and the huge eyes that blinked almost mechanically.

The eagle was found in the Lorton area near Syracuse, Nebraska. He had been injured by an electrical burn, destroying the feathers and skin tissue atop his head. Only a thin layer of bone remained, protecting his brain. A team--including Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo as well as Fontenelle Forest and its Raptor Recovery Center--came together to facilitate a skin graft for the life-threatening wound. Because of the electrical burn, the eagle had been given the name Bolt. After extensive rehabilitation, he was ready to fly again.

Chip Davis, of the Grammy-winning Mannheim Steamroller and a patron of Fontenelle Forest, was holding Bolt with special protective orange gloves that reached past his elbows, ready for the eagle’s release. As I watched the majestic bird, I whispered to the lady next to me, “I didn’t bring my raptor gloves; still, it would be fascinating to touch it.” She shook her head, simulating half a finger. Chip released Bolt back into the wild. With two flaps of his massive wings, he headed due north into the sky, then looped back around and into the woods. As I was leaving the grounds, I spotted Bolt in a tree. Having spent weeks in captivity for an exposed skull, I think it reasonable to sit and get one’s bearings.

In Congress, I serve as co-chair of the bipartisan International Conservation Caucus (ICC), which safeguards the broad idea of stewardship of our resources for the good of community. The ICC’s work is rooted in a practical approach to ecology: that habitat  and sustainable economic benefit are interlinked with conservation.  The ICC not only seeks to prevent the trafficking in wildlife, but also to create the conditions for stability in local governance, economies, and the flourishing of indigenous people. On a human level, our impulse is to not be wasteful and to protect that which is precious. On a macro level, rightfully ordered resource management—which can include innovative land use, recreation, ecotourism, and hunting and fishing--helps create the conditions for international stability, and, thus, our own national security. Thoughtful engagement turns the tragedy of the commons into the opportunity for commonality.

As you are probably aware, there was robust debate in our nation’s early years about what our national symbol should be. One noted Founder, Ben Franklin, wanted the turkey. He also said that beer was proof God loves us and wants us to be happy. We ended up with the bald eagle. Strong and bold, the eagle, nevertheless, became endangered, until we acted to save it. In a true ecosystem, no person or thing ought to be thrown away.

Before he was released, Bolt was held under a towel to keep him calm. Bolt kept trying to bite the gloves that held him. He wanted out. The eagle wanted to be free. He’d been given a chance again.