A national symbol is under attack on the Cumberland Plateau.
The killing of a second bald eagle in less than a month on the Eastern Cumberland Plateau has boosted a reward to $17,000, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials. The reward is being offered for information leading to a conviction.
The first bald eagle was found in late February about a mile east of state Highway 101 and Big Springs Gap Road in Bledsoe County. The second bird was found about 30 miles away near Crab Orchard Elementary School in Cumberland County on Feb. 18, officials said.
Veterinarians determined both eagles had been shot, and both were adults with obvious white heads and tails.
"The two birds were apparently shot with a small-caliber rifle," state wildlife agency spokesman Dan Hicks said late Tuesday.
Both animals were shot in the body and might have been sitting when they were killed.
"I can't imagine the mindset of someone who would take that shot," Hicks said.
He said it's possible the same person shot both eagles.
When the first eagle was found, a reward of $2,500 was set. But after finding the second one, the reward for the first shooting was raised to $8,500 and a reward of $8,500 also was placed on the second.
The two eagles bring the total to three shot in the region in recent years, he said.
"We did have one shot here about two years ago in Cumberland County," Hicks said. "It spent a year in rehab. It was treated for multiple shotgun pellet wounds."
Despite a broken wing, the bird was rehabilitated by the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., until it was able to fly inside a flyway on foundation grounds, Hicks said.
It was released back into the wild by Gov.-elect Bill Haslam in December 2010 near the Tennessee River and the Knox/Blount county line, he said.
Hicks said the killings counter efforts to reintroduce bald eagles to East Tennessee over the past two decades. Tennessee officials went to Alaska in the 1980s to collect baby eagles to bring back to Tennessee as part of those efforts, he said.
The eagles more than likely were from Haines, Alaska, according to David Olerud, founder of the American Bald Eagle Foundation in the nation's northernmost state.
Olerud said Haines has the highest population of bald eagles in the world and has been shipping eaglets to the lower 48 states for more than 30 years.
"We have been funneling 20 to 30 eaglets down to the Lower 48 every spring to help repopulate," he said.
Olerud said it was "highly likely" that the eagles shot in February in Tennessee were descendants of those transplanted baby birds from Alaska.
He was dismayed by the news of two dead eagles but not surprised, he said.
"It's just the nature of the human being," he said. "It's sad to see it."
Olerud speculated that local bald eagles might be preparing nests for spring, but he doubted the two birds shot in February were a mated pair because of the distance between the sites where their bodies were found.
Bald eagles mate for life and strongly defend their home territory from other eagles, he said.
The American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge attracts a lot of attention and educates people about the nation's avian symbol. The more people know about the bird, the safer and more appreciated it will be, Olerud said.