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More than 100 people gathered Wednesday to witness bald eagle release

By Sarah Grothjan
The Daily News Online

Two weeks before her 102nd birthday, Kelso resident Sophie Salsa witnessed a special moment Wednesday: the release of a rehabilitated bald eagle at Willow Grove Park.

Two weeks before her 102nd birthday, Kelso resident Sophie Salsa witnessed a special moment Wednesday: the release of a rehabilitated bald eagle at Willow Grove Park.

Sha Jouwsma, the life enrichment coordinator at Highlander Assisted Living, where Salsa resides, said Salsa had been anticipating its release.

“She said she wanted something good to come out of it,” Jouwsma said.

The mended bird was released in front of more than 100 people, including Salsa, who gathered beneath grey skies at Willow Grove Park Wednesday.

The 5-year-old female eagle has spent the last two months at the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center, where it was recovering from an injured wing.

Micah Meskel, conservation field coordinator at the Audubon Society of Portland, said the bird of prey was recovered by a law enforcement officer along Highway 30 near Clatskanie. Meskel said the bird’s wing was overextended near its head, though there was no structural damage. He speculated that perhaps the bird was hit by a vehicle.

He said the center cares for about 3,000 injured wildlife each year, including about 30 bald eagles. He said eagles are brought to the center with injuries most often caused by either the birds colliding with a manmade object or losing a battle over territory with another bald eagle. He said the latter is becoming more common as the bald eagle population increases.

On Wednesday, the eagle — which had not been given a name — flew swiftly from its cage toward the Columbia River. With several flaps of its wings, it was gone.

Meskel said the eagle should have no problem readapting to the wild because it was only at the center for two months. It was released at the park because it’s not far from Highway 30, where the eagle was originally discovered.

Despite the upbeat nature of the day, though, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a Columbia Riverkeeper senior community organizer used the occasion to criticize the proposed methanol refinery and coal terminal proposed in the Kalama and Longview areas.

“The easiest thing people can do is not make our habitat worse,” she said. “That’s why protecting the Columbia from these fossil fuel terminals is important.”

LaDern Koehler, 83, was among those who watched the eagle release. Koehler, who also resides at Highlander Assisted Living in Kelso, said it was her first time seeing an eagle released into the wild.

“I’m thrilled,” she said between bites of cake, which was served after the release. “I’ve seen a lot of eagles, but I’ve never seen one released.”

“It looked huge coming out of that cage,” she added.

Russell Smith, 85, of Kelso said he’d been looking forward to the bird’s release.

“I never seen anything like that before,” said the native of Virginia.

Virginia’s bald eagles were probably among the most abundant in North America because of its proximity to Chesapeake Bay; but like those on the lower Columbia, eagle populations there had withered to perilously low levels because of PCBs, pesticides and other pollutants in the food chain, according to the Center for Conservation Biology. Virginia’s eagle populations have been making a remarkable comeback since the late 1970s, as they have nationally. But they had almost vanished there when Smith was a youngster, which may explain why he was so enthralled when the national bird was set free at Willow Grove Wednesday.

“They don’t have anything like this in Virginia,” he said with a smile.

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