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A local view of eagles and agriculture

by Jo Rafferty

Local residents had their own chance to view the interaction of eagles and agriculture Wednesday during the first Eagles and Agriculture Tour Locals’ Day.

About 130 filled the three buses for a three-hour drive around Carson Valley, making stops at the Settelmeyer, Byington, Mackland and Dangberg Home ranches and pulling over for impromptu stops at favorite viewing sites.

Coordinator Paul Pugsley with the Carson Valley Conservation District made his base at the Dangberg Home Ranch this year, the first year the buses stopped at the ranch where the Dangberg home was built in 1857.

“We try to involve locations that people couldn’t normally get to,” said Pugsley, who has been coordinator each year since the tradition began four years ago.

With the tour becoming more in demand each year, the Eagles and Ag organizers decided to add a Locals’ Day. Both the Wednesday tour and the main tour, with twice the number of buses, on Saturday were sold out.

“(Eagles and Ag) has enough interest that we started this day for locals so we could open up more spaces for travelers on Saturday,” said Pugsley.

Pugsley spoke between cell phone calls from the buses which were at various points around the Valley. On Saturday there will be six buses to coordinate.

“My role is to try to keep the buses going someplace where there’s birds,” said Pugsley, “to try to keep them on schedule, going from one place to the next.”

Carson Valley residents who attended the Locals’ Day seemed pleased to be offered the discounted rate of $25, rather than paying the $45 charge for Saturday’s tour and buffet lunch. Tourism manager Lisa Voss of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce wants to make sure residents know they are welcome on either tour.

Theresa and Jerry Daniel of Westwood Village said they have tickets for both the Wednesday and Saturday tours. They are bird watchers who belong to the Lahontan and other Audubon Society clubs and the American Birding Association. They moved to Westwood three years ago, but have been “avid birders” for 18 years. This was their first year on the tour.

“We enjoy living here, this is really neat,” said Jerry.

Debbie and Dave McNeil have lived in the Valley for 24 years, but this is the first time they were able to attend Eagles and Ag. Debbie is a teacher at Scarselli Elementary School and had to take a personal day to attend.

“That would be great to take kids on a field trip here,” said Debbie. “We love the hawks. It’s great to be able to see the eagles.”

“This is great,” said Dave. “We’ve been talking about doing this for a while. We decided to take advantage of it when they made it more affordable. Tourists have been doing it for years.”

The riders got the biggest eyeful of eagles at the Settelmeyer ranch along Highway 395 where 10 eagles were spotted. Some of the birds had been trying to eat the same cow carcass at the same time.

Five students in Madeline Fernald’s class at Sierra Crest Academy seemed to have gotten a kick out of watching the eagles.

“I liked looking at the eagles eating,” said Travis Sawin, an eighth grader. “It was pretty cool. We were pretty lucky that we got to see 10.”

“They were like fighting,” said seventh-grader Sasha Renfro. “It was pretty awesome.”

Sawin, Renfro and their classmates, seventh-graders Alexis Brennecke and Mitchell French and his brother, Damyn French in ninth grade, will all have to do a project on their experience.

“There’s strings attached,” said Sasha.

Each bus is provided with a commentator who is either a specialist in ranching, bird watching or conservation. Mike Hayes of Carson Valley Conservation District, rancher Craig Witt of Full Circle Compost and Steve Lewis of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension were commentators on Wednesday.

At each stop, a rancher climbs aboard to add colorful stories from his perspective to the tour. At the Dangberg Home Ranch, ranch manager Dennis Jensen spoke about everyday life caring for cattle on 5,000 acres owned by Park Cattle Co. Jensen was a ranch hand at the Dangberg Home Ranch in the 1970s.

He pointed out a cow that was ready to drop her calf.

“She’s got this little twinge,” he said. “She’s got to do something. She’s not too sure what to do … that heifer.”

But the bus moved on and the onlookers turned their attention to looking for birds.

Later, as the bus came back around to where the cows were, passengers tried to see what had happened to the distressed cow.

“She’s had the calf, it’s at her front feet,” said Jensen and some of the riders.

After careful observation through binoculars, Theresa Daniel noticed something was awry.

“Do they come out with green ear tags?” she asked, and everybody laughed.

n Jo Rafferty can be reached at jrafferty@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.