11 bald eagles poisoned in 2019 Chestertown case found on property used as a regulated shooting area

A total of 11 bald eagles, one great horned owl and two foxes were found poisoned by carbofuran on a farm in Chestertown in 2019 – a property that is, in part, used as a regulated shooting area, according to the property owner and records received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by WNAV.

Carbofuran, an extremely toxic pesticide, was fully banned by the Environmental Protection in 2009.

Between 2009 and 2019, at least 30 bald eagles have been killed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore by carbofuran:

  • 2009 – Cordova farm (2 eagles)
  • 2012 – Easton farm (2 eagles)
  • 2014 – Preston farm ( 1 eagle)
  • 2016 – Federalsburg farm (13 eagles)
  • 2017 – Easton farm (5 eagles)
  • 2019 – Chestertown farm (6 eagles + 1 great horned owl)
  • 2019 – Cordova farm (1 eagle)

In some of these cases, including the 2019 incidents in Chestertown and Cordova, not all of the bald eagles died – some were treated and released. Since all of these cases happened during bald eagle nesting season, it’s likely eggs and young eaglets were affected – it takes two, adult eagles to incubate and safeguard eggs, then protect and feed young eaglets.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) “A Regulated Shooting Area (RSA) is a tract of land, including any waters, on which the licensee may release and shoot captive-raised pheasant, bobwhite quail, chukar partridge, Hungarian partridge, turkeys (turkeys may be released only by those permitted to do so before September 1, 1992) and mallard ducks. The RSA Permit allows the holder of the permit to raise and release properly marked, captive-raised birds.”

RSAs on the Eastern Shore are most often on farms, according to Gregg Bortz, DNR’s media relations manager.

According to a 2018 interview done by WNAV’s Reporter Donna Cole with retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Frank Kuncir, who spent years investigating cases involving poisoning of bald eagles on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Kuncir revealed the majority of the poisoning cases he investigated involved people protecting captive-raised mallards held on RSAs.

The captive ducks are intended to be released and shot by paying customers.

Bald eagles are predators and duck ranks high on their menu preference list.  Ducks equate to money on RSAs – or loss of it, if eagles and other wildlife are killing the ducks before paying customers can.

On a 2019 Facebook post about the eagle poisonings, Josh Neuwiller, an Eastern Shore-based outdoorsman, commented “we released 500 mallards on (an RSA) last year and by September 1st we were down to 250 half and 90% were due to eagles! I watched one bird eat 11 ducks in 3 hrs.” He added it’s “very wrong to poach but I can see a guy getting pissed and doing this.”

In  follow-up interviews with Neuwiller, Cole asked about his comment. He said the mallards had been released on the RSA in June and by September, he believed eagles had killed half of them. He reiterated in both interviews that he thinks it’s wrong to kill bald eagles. 

Because land can be leased, the RSA permit holder does not need to be the property owner. 

In some cases, eagles have been directly baited with carbofuran. In others, they have succumbed to secondary poisoning by carbofuran, after predating on dead raccoons and foxes that have been baited with the toxic pesticide.

Raccoons and foxes will also eat ducks and their eggs. It is no secret that killing the bottom of the food chain can quickly result in death of their predators  – eagles are scavengers and will prey on an easy target, such as a dead or dying fox.

It’s also possible for foxes that have been baited with carbofuran to travel over property lines before succumbing to the poison and being predated on by other wildlife, such as bald eagles.

Chestertown 2019 Case

On March 1, 2019, according to documents obtained by WNAV, the USFWS received a call from Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) about eight bald eagles that appeared lethargic and unable to fly on Gresham Hall Farm in Chestertown. NRP, with assistance from DNR personnel conducted a rescue and recovery effort  – five eagles were successfully treated and later released, while three died at the scene. A dead fox was also found the scene.

On March 4 and 13, two more dead bald eagles and a dead great horned owl were found on the same property.

According to documents, in an interview with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents, a caretaker for the property stated, “the farm is used as a Regulated Shooting Area (RSA) as well for growing agricultural produce mainly consisting of corn.” The same caretaker, whose name was redacted in the USFWS documents, stated “no pesticides or fertilizers had been placed on the farm and they were not allowed to do so until after March 1st of each year.” He also stated, “captive-raised ducks are purchased and released on the farm each July.”

On April 1, 2019, another dead bald eagle and fox were found immediately to the south of Gresham Hill Farm. These carcasses brough the total death count to six bald eagles, one great horned owl and two red foxes.

David “Danny” Bramble is the owner of Gresham Hill Farm. Bramble told WNAV in an interview on Tuesday he does have an RSA. DNR records, previously requested by WNAV through a Maryland Public Information Act, confirm Bramble has a permit for a non-commercial RSA.

Bramble said he doesn’t use carbofuran.

“As far as I know, nobody has ever used it on the farm – we have no reason to use it,” he said.

Bramble said he enjoys seeing the bald eagles.

“Everybody in my family loves having the eagles around,” he said.

When asked about other people on his property, including those that use the RSA, Bramble said they too like the wildlife.

“The only people that go on my RSA are my family and friends, he said. “They feel the same way I do – they love watching the eagles.”

When asked if he was surprised there was a long history of RSAs and poisoned eagles, Bramble said, “It’s a surprise.”

He added, “I thought the one down in Caroline County didn’t involve an RSA.”

Federalsburg, in Caroline County, is where 13 bald eagles were found dead on a farm in 2016. WNAV has not been able to confirm if that property was used for an RSA.

Federalsburg 2016 bald eagle poisoning case. Photo courtesy of Maryland Natural Resources Police.

Bramble said he buys the ducks for his RSA for about $6.  

“Last year, I bought 2,000 and I killed 30,” he said, adding that the weather wasn’t great last year.

Bramble was curious about the other poisoning cases and said didn’t realize how many bald eagles had been killed.

Asked again about the relationship between RSAs and the bald eagle poisonings, Bramble said, “I find that hard to believe – most hunters like wildlife.”

“I hope they find who’s doing it,” he added.

Because carbofuran is toxic and can leech into the water and land, and because RSAs are on farms, where food for human and animal consumption is produced, WNAV asked the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in February of this year, if they’ve conducted testing on the any of the properties where wildlife have been found poisoned by carbofuran.

“A check into your inquiry found no indication that MDE has performed sampling at the sites you describe,” replied Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the agency. “The Maryland Department of Agriculture regulates pesticides and it is our understanding that Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the eagles’ deaths. The check into your inquiry to MDE found no indication that any of these entities requested that MDE perform sampling.”

Many of these poisoning incidents, including the Federalsburg property where 13 bald eagles were found poisoned in 2016 were widely publicized, with details about crops grown on the farms. According to a Washington Post article about that incident, the owner of that farm, “grows soybeans and wheat on about 70 acres of his property.”

Cordova 2019 Incident

According to USFWS law enforcement records, on  April 3, 2019 at approximately 7:33 pm, three bald eagles, were located on a farm near Lewistown Road and Colby Road in Cordova that were lethargic and unable to move.  A red fox carcass was discovered in close proximity to the eagles. Two of the eagles were treated and later released. The third died.

All were poisoned with carbofuran.

Courtesy of USFWS

WNAV has not confirmed that property is used as an RSA. Though DNR provided WNAV the names of non-commercial RSA permit holders, the agency has repeatedly refused requests to provide addresses, citing privacy regulations.

According to USFWS documents, “a January 2017 Service investigation into secondary poisoning of bald eagles occurred on the same property.”

WNAV previously reported about a January 2017 case in Easton, not Cordova, where five bald eagles and a red fox died from carbofuran poisoning.  In that case, Troy Whaley discovered the bald eagles on a farm off of Glebe Road in Easton, not near Lewistown and Colby roads.

Photo courtesy of Troy Whaley

WNAV reached out to USFWS about this question and was told to submit another FOIA.

Bald eagles and the great horned owl are federally protected and in all of these cases, state and federal laws have been broken, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

This pesticide enforcement advisory issued in May 2019 was the first ever issued about carbofuran by the Maryland Department of Agriculture

WNAV is not aware of anyone being charged or prosecuted for any of the cases mentioned in this article. All of the cases mentioned in this article have been closed by the USFWS.

While carbofuran is banned and is illegal to buy, use or sell, there is no state law that prohibits possession of it.

During the interview with WNAV, Kuncir said closing that loophole could help law enforcement bring some of these cases to justice.

Frank Kuncir – courtesy photo

And though Kuncir is retired from the USFWS, his desire to help stop the poisonings continues.

In the months following his interview with WNAV, Kuncir began working with Beth Decker, executive director of Safe Skies Maryland, a conservation initiative focused on human-caused bird mortality issues, on legislation that would make possession of carbofuran illegal. They hope to present this bill to legislators next year.

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning journalist who works for WNAV News in Annapolis. In June 2019, for her reporting work on the bald eagle poisonings, Donna was awarded the Dateline Award for Excellence in Local Journalism / Investigative Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C. Chapter and the Outstanding Enterprise Reporting award from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

2 Replies to “11 bald eagles poisoned in 2019 Chestertown case found on property used as a regulated shooting area”

  1. What is your goal with this article? You specifically can only site that one of the properties is an RSA because the owner answered your questions truthfully and without any intent other than to help in any way to catch the individual or individuals that poisoned the eagles in Chestertown. I do not see the names of the officers from MDDNR or the Federal Agents involved that answered the call in regards to the eagles found on that farm. If you had, you may have learned that the initial report came from an employee of Mr. Bramble’s, and that Mr. Bramble, Myself (a co-owner of the property), and Mr. Bramble’s Son in Law, who also is the property farmer, were all on hand and volunteered ourselves to the authorities were not ever considered suspects. In fact, the birds found later and the great horned owl were immediately reported to the Federal agent by myself. I find your assertions in poor taste and misleading, at least as it pertains to the only property you could definitively say is an RSA. I also think you mislead Mr. Bramble with your intentions, and I find that despicable. I’m curious to see if you will allow this reply to stay on your site.

    1. Paul,

      Thank you for your comment. Transparency is important and your comments are always welcome. I’m sorry you think anything I’ve reported is in poor taste. Your father-in-law was helpful and I shared what he shared with me. I’ve been reporting on these cases since 2016 and when I share information that comes from FOIAs, many names are redacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including those belonging to NRP officers and federal agents. Thus, I can’t share them because I don’t know them.

      As was pointed out in the article and in the conversation with your father-in-law, foxes can travel over property lines with the poison in their system. Your father-in-law did not want me to share publicly his thoughts on who he thought did it and I respected that.

      Take care and stay well.

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