“Because we don’t have a place for him to live.”
Clough, the museum’s assistant director, was giving a talk on birds of prey to a group of Marlboro Elementary School students when he was asked the question. Students spend a fair amount of time at the Hogback Mountain museum, but for this particular presentation, Clough decided to bring some of the museum’s collection to the school. The relationship between the two institutions is extensive and growing, and Clough’s answer would lay the foundation for an entirely new link between them.
Judy Lang, Marlboro Elementary’s first- and second-grade teacher, was teaching a unit on geese, owls, and eagles when Clough visited her class. “The school spends a lot of time at Hogback,” she said. “We did a big Hogback cleanup on Green Up Vermont Day, and we have Hogback Day during the school year where there are different activities available for students.”
After Clough’s visit to the school, Lang and her students decided to contribute to the museum in a new way, setting out to change the fact that the museum did not have the adequate facilities for a bald eagle.
Students had been working on a bird quilt during the semester and, according to Lang, came to a group consensus to have a raffle with it, along with a lunch. They raised a few hundred dollars and agreed to donate the money to the museum, kickstarting the process for acquiring a bald eagle. “We put a fire under Mike to get whatever approval he needed from the state and federal governments,” says Lang.
Ed Metcalfe, the museum’s director, received a check along with a letter from Marlboro students. “The kids were so into it that we figured we would take the next step.” Clough reacted similarly. “Once the kids raised that much money, we had to take it seriously.”
As opposed to acquiring other birds of prey, acquiring a bald eagle requires significantly more work on Clough’s and Metcalfe’s parts. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, although bald eagles were removed from the federal government’s endangered and threatened species list in 2007, they are still protected by specific acts of Congress and therefore demand an extensive permitting process in order to be obtained by a museum.
“The cage needs to be much bigger,” according to Metcalfe, “and we’re hoping to exceed federal standards.”
Clough and Metcalfe have already received permission from the state of Vermont to begin seeking an eagle. The next step is building a cage, then finding an eagle, and finally applying for a permit from the federal government.
The cage project will, of course, require much more money. The museum relies on a combination of grants and private donations to operate, and funding for the eagle cage will need to come from these sources as well.
Clough and Metcalfe estimate that they will need to raise between $3,000 and $3,500 in order for the project to move forward, and they hope that residents of the Deerfield Valley will contribute to its construction as they embark on a search for grant money.
“I think it’s very doable,” says Metcalfe, “but how quickly is in question.”
Then comes identifying a potential eagle. “It’s sad how easy it’s going to be to get an eagle,” says Clough, who has been in contact with bird and wildlife sanctuaries around the country looking to send their animals to a safe home. “We’ve had half a dozen offers for eagles from different preservations.”
“We need a bird that is injured and not releasable,” says Metcalfe, “probably a bird with a broken wing who can’t fly.”
Clough views the acquisition of a bald eagle as a rich educational opportunity. “With live animals,” he says, “it’s a different kind of attention. Some people retain everything they see on nature shows, but having an actual animal provides a kind of hook.”
Lang agrees that physical connections to the local landscape are a strong educational tool. “The benefit is to value our neighborhood, to value and take care of where we live. This is a project we can be proud of and take ownership of.”
“Having an eagle,” says Metcalfe, would show people “a need for conservation, a need for maintaining habitat. The eagle allows you to address those issues.” In addition, he says, “An eagle is pretty spectacular to look at. The programs we’ve done at schools have doubled in size over the years, and they’ll probably triple if we have an eagle.”
Clough and Metcalfe hope that their efforts to secure an eagle will be completed by the end of the summer, in time for the yearly Vermont Wildlife Festival, as well as the beginning of the new school year.
Anyone interested in making a donation to the museum’s eagle enclosure can contact the museum at (802) 464-0048 or visit their website at www.vermontmuseum.com.