Boy Scout Camp Employees Fired For Rescuing A Bald Eagle

Sometimes sticking to one’s moral and ethical convictions is more important than even your job. When a Boy Scout camp employee heard about a large injured bird close to where she was working at Camp Marriott, she decided to find it. Little did she know at the time that by doing so, she and her brother would be fired.

Photo courtesy Eliana Bookbinder

In search of an eagle

It was Eliana Bookbinder’s day off, but that didn’t stop her from asking her boss if she could find the injured bird, and then call the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Her boss needed to check with the Goshen superintendent first. So Bookbinder headed out to search for what she thought at the time was a hawk. But when she finally found the injured bird, she realized it was actually a bald eagle.

Bookbinder texted her boss a photo and also called him to discuss the state of the eagle. Instead of approval, she was met with an order to not call the wildlife rehabilitation center, or transport it to a wildlife veterinarian.

“I pointed out that this was a massive violation of the Scout law,” Bookbinder told the Washington Post. “Part of the Scout law is to be thoughtful and to be kind, and this was neither,” she said. “I have never been so angry that I cried. At that point I just thought okay, I’m just going to do it anyway,” Bookbinder said.

Capturing the bird

Bookbinder contacted her brother, who was at the camp and also an employee, and told him to gather materials so that they could capture the eagle and take it a rehabilitation center. Capturing the bird was “really scarily easy,” Bookbinder said.

At the Wildlife Center, the twins handed over the eagle and filled out necessary paperwork. The staff at the center started assessing the bird’s condition. But by the time they arrived back at camp, they were reportedly berated for having done a “terrible” thing.  Not only had they “endangered the reputation of the Boy Scouts,” but their actions may have cost the Boy Scouts a $200,000 fine.

The next morning, the Wildlife Center called to inform them that the eagle had to be euthanized due to the severity of its injuries.

Injured bald eagle. Photo courtesy Eliana Bookbinder

Federal law prohibits the “taking” of a bald eagle    

Later that morning they were told they had indeed broken the law, although which law was not mentioned, and that the game warden wanted to arrest them for rescuing the eagle. Shortly thereafter, they told the Washington Post they were fired for disobeying their orders.

While it’s unclear as to why the two camp employees would have been fired for coming to the aid of a bald eagle, the repercussions they faced may have something to do with “taking” the bird from its natural environment. Federal laws that protect bald eagles prohibit anyone from the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg unless allowed by permit, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The act of “taking” a bald eagle out of its natural habitat includes: pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.

While these laws were clearly created to protect the bald eagle, the act of protecting would also warrant removing the bird and taking it to a location where it could be evaluated, rehabilitated and then released back into its environment.

A lesson in ethics

Scouting instills respect for laws and doing what is ethically and morally right. So, being fired for ignoring an animal in need would seem par for the course when working at Boy Scout camp. But, being fired for trying to save an animal in need seems to go against everything the Boy Scout’s value.

The Scouts could argue that the Bookbinders broke a federal law by “taking” the bird. Although, it’s unclear which law they broke, since bald eagles were taken off of the endangered species list in 2013. Nevertheless the Scouts follow a strict code of ethics, which includes never breaking the law.

But there was clearly no malicious intent behind the act of saving the eagle. Firing the two seems like more of a power struggle between the boss and employees, and less about following Scout protocol. What do you think: were the Scouts right to fire the two siblings, or were the Bookbinders right for following their own moral compass?

–Katherine Marko

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