October 07, 2004 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Staff Writer

In little more than a month several hundred bald eagles will begin arriving in Northeast Oregon from Alaska to spend the winter here.

What can you do to assist them?

Take your foot off the accelerator.

Bald eagles frequently feed on the carcasses of deer, elk and other animals killed along the roadway. The eagles often eat so much at once that they become too heavy to fly for several hours. The birds, while lingering around a carcass, thus have a hard time avoiding motorists speeding down highway.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Leonard Erickson knows this well. Injured bald eagles are periodically brought into the ODFW office in

La Grande. Often they were hit by motorists.

Bald eagles are among the many injured animals brought in each year to the La Grande ODFW office. The eagles and other animals are often held until they are well enough to be released into the wild again or are sent to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Pendleton.

Most of the injured animals that are brought in are birds. In addition bald eagles, golden eagles, great horned owls, Swainson's hawks and many others are brought in. Injured mammals that are brought in include squirrels, raccoons, foxes.

The most unusual creature was a healthy turtle found walking down Island Avenue. The turtle, not native to this area, was brought in by someone who understandably feared for its safety, Erickson said.

At the La Grande ODFW office injured animals are held until they can be released into the wild again, sent to a rehabilitation specialist in Pendleton or in rare instances given to an educational organizations such the High Desert Museum near Bend.

Animals kept at the ODFW are isolated from people. Erickson said that it is important that the animals have limited human contact so that they will remain afraid of people. Animals that are afraid of people have a much better chance of surviving after they are released back into the wild.

"This is not a petting zoo,'' Erickson said. "...We want to keep the wild in wildlife.''

Many animals are brought in come in during the spring. The majority are young animals, including elk calfs and deer fawns which people have found. Well meaning people often mistakenly believe that these animals were abandoned by their mothers. In most cases though the animal's mom is nearby, thus bringing in the calf or fawn actually does more harm by separating it from its parent.

People who see injured animals which need help are urged not to pick them up. Instead people should call the ODFW and give a precise location of where the animal is. People should not pick up wild animals because of the risk of attack.

"They see you as a threat,'' Erickson said.

People who make the mistake of picking up a a wildlife animal should never take it home. Erickson explained that it is illegal in Oregon to have a wild animal without a permit.