When Rolling Hills Electric Cooperative’s Casey Smith encounters an animal on the job, it’s usually not for the happiest of reasons—like when a raccoon or squirrel has met its untimely end with a live power line.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a rescue. I’d call it a removal,” says the line foreman at the Beloit, Kansas-based co-op, with a laugh.
Smith’s latest animal encounter, however, had a happy ending. Last month, he freed a bald eagle that was hanging upside down in a tree on the thawing banks of Lovewell State Park in Webber.
Park officials had tried to detangle the creature’s talon from the limb, but an extension ladder couldn’t reach the branch.
Public Lands Manager Rob Unruh spotted the eagle while out on a morning walk with his wife, Joan. It’s likely, he said, the bird caught a shad in the lake and flew up to the tree to enjoy his snack.
“Somehow, he got snared in a forked branch of the tree,” Unruh said. “The only thing we can figure out is when he came to light in the tree, he somehow misjudged and missed.”
Unruh and game warden Carli McFarland briefly considered sawing the tree limb but scrapped that idea for safety reasons. That’s when McFarland called the co-op. Smith was on call that day.
“I had to come in and get one of our bigger buckets to take out there because it was quite a ways up in the tree,” he said. “He was shaking the branch pretty hard. He didn’t look too happy that I was there.”
The rescue effort took about 10 minutes. Smith used a portable chain saw to clear branches and a 10-foot hot stick to “finagle him out of there so he could be free.” Once, detangled, the eagle flew away.
Social media posts on the rescue “spread like wildfire,” said the co-op’s Catie Mellies, adding that local media outlets interviewed Smith and Unruh for a story. All the attention left Smith “flabbergasted.” But he did admit that he was pumped up afterward.
“It was pretty neat. The only time I’ve ever seen a bald eagle was in the zoo. It’s one of those things that will probably never happen again.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.