Wildlife photographer could go to prison for rescuing baby bald eagles

Wildlife photographer Steve Patterson went from hero to potential convict after he broke state laws when he rescued two baby bald eagles.

Patterson discovered the two eagles back in June 2013. It appeared that the two eagles had fallen from a tree when their nest was knocked down. With a mother nowhere in sight and one of the birds looking seriously injured, Patterson brought them back to his home in Oglesby, Illinois.

After returning home, Patterson contacted the Department of Natural Resources, who told Patterson to leave the eagles alone. Unbeknownst to the department, the eagles, one male and one female, were already perched in Patterson’s garage.

He then called the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation centre. Shortly after, the not-for-profit came to Patterson’s home, and found that both eagles were dehydrated and had wing fractures. They then brought the injured birds to the centre, where they would be rehabilitated until they could be safely released back into the wild. The rehab centre named the two eagles Patty, after their rescuer, and Sam, after the good Samaritan law that supporters are hoping will vindicate Patterson.

This past Jan. 1, the now 18-month-old Sam was released. Patty is currently receiving physical therapy and will be released later this year.

And although it’s looking like a happy ending for both Sam and Patty, their rescuer is facing the consequences of his actions.

Patterson faces misdemeanour charges of interfering with wildlife. If found guilty, he could be fined $2,500 for each of the charges and sentenced to a year in prison. Patterson returns to court in LaSalle County next month. His first trial ended with a hung jury.

LaSalle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne says that despite Patterson’s seemingly heroic efforts, he actually brought harm to the eagles.

“[Patterson] thumbs his nose at nature and the law, all under the guise of being a hero,” Towne told the Chicago-Sun Times. “He did more harm to that eaglet than he did good. Had Patterson not intervened with the experts dealing with the situation, that eaglet would not have had to be released after 18-months of incarceration.”

But Republican State Rep. Bob Pritchard sees Patterson’s actions differently. Pritchard is advocating for a state law that would protect good Samaritans who help injured wildlife. House Bill 109 would allow anyone who finds an injured, sick, or crippled wild animal to take possession of it and immediately take it to a rehabilitation facility.

“It’s no different than a domesticated animal or even a human; if you have an injury and you can treat and rehabilitate, we ought to try and do that,” Pritchard told the Chicago-Sun Times.

So far, Patterson’s already racked up $20,000 in lawyer fees fighting his case in court.

“This ordeal has nothing to do with my actions,” Patterson said. “I just didn’t want to see these two birds die on the ground.”