Raptor Rapture

Jerry Ostwinkle's life fell apart when the government seized his golden eagle; now he's fighting for Rex and the rights of falconers.

"They've lost sight of the roots of the law and what's beneficial," says Arnold. "There's absolutely no testimony in the Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that there was the slightest concern that these birds would get their picture taken."

Fish and Wildlife Service officials say Arnold's interpretation of the law is way off. Saying economic value and commercial use are the same thing is a stretch, says Art Garcia, an attorney representing the federal government in Ostwinkle's case. Besides, he says, it's clear from state and federal regulations that use of the birds for financial gain is not permitted. "You can't commit an act in violation of the regulations and say the regulations are wrong," says Garcia.

What Ostwinkle is trying to do is rewrite history, he says. "What chance is there that Congress is going to pass an amendment that you can use these birds for commercial purposes, especially the American golden eagle?"

Jerry Ostwinkle holds CoCo, his sacer falcon, as she flutters on his fist.
Paolo Vescia
Jerry Ostwinkle holds CoCo, his sacer falcon, as she flutters on his fist.
Although Jerry Ostwinkle lost his license to fly raptors from the U.S., he is able to obtain birds like CoCo, who comes from Saudi Arabia and is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Leah Fasten
Although Jerry Ostwinkle lost his license to fly raptors from the U.S., he is able to obtain birds like CoCo, who comes from Saudi Arabia and is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ostwinkle should have treated his eagle permit as a rare privilege, and one that is not worth the risk of losing by violating the law, says Garcia. "Congress gave specific provisions for the use of protected species, but I would think if they had their druthers, they wouldn't even have allowed that."

Ostwinkle says he's ready to rewrite history, if that's what it takes to protect falconers' rights and get his eagle back.

As far as McKeever is concerned, a reunion between Ostwinkle and Rex will only be accomplished in court. "He's not going to be returned," she says. "He belongs to the public."

Ostwinkle says the only place Rex belongs is on his fist, and one day he will be back there. Ostwinkle has already made plans to drive to Texas, where all he will have to do is call Rex's name and the eagle will recognize him, he says. "He should immediately start bowing at me. If he does, I'll know he was just waiting for me."

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