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  Posted 09 September 2018 - 08:07 AM

Georgia rancher wins legal battle in bald eagle attacks
Sept 07, 2018
By George Mathis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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A Georgia rancher's battle against bald eagle attacks on his pasture-raised chickens continues, but he's won a skirmish against the federal government. Bluffton rancher Will Harris, who's led a crusade for a more ethical treatment of livestock from his fifth-generation farm in southwest Georgia, said he now expects to receive compensation for some of the 160,000 chickens he's lost in recent years to America's flying, and hungry, symbol of freedom. The 63-year-old rancher said he's lost more than $2 million in poultry to the eagles, who now live year-round on his 3,200-acre property, White Oak Pastures, the largest USDA certified-organic property in Georgia.

Reached by phone, Harris said he will likely receive the maximum compensation allowed, $125,000, for each year he proves he suffered losses, and may also recover an estimated $100,000 in legal fees. Harris said the compensation won't "make or break" his $20-plus million-a-year in revenue operation, but the ruling may prove critical for smaller farms. "The ruling is a win not just for us but for all small farms everywhere. At White Oak Pastures, we are committed to animal welfare, regenerative farming and empowering and supporting our local economy," said Harris. "To survive at a time when conventional producers dominate the market, independent ranchers rely on equitable treatment by laws often written for big agricultural operations."

Harris started letting his chickens roam freely in 2010 and by 2012 had a flock of 100,000 birds, mostly chickens but also smaller numbers of turkeys, guinea hens and ducks. It didn't take long for the eagle-eyed eagles to notice. Soon, the federally-protected raptors were destroying up to 30 percent of his flock. After numerous, unsuccessful efforts to divert the birds of prey from preying on poultry -- noise machines, tarps and other measures were tried -- White Oak Pastures applied for Livestock Indemnity Program benefits from the Farm Service Administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Years of disputes" followed, said Harris, and, in 2017, the FSA denied White Oak Pasture's claims, saying the losses were not proven. White Oak Pastures appealed the decision. Following an extended period of appeals from both FSA and White Oak Pastures, a ruling issued in August said the FSA acted improperly when it denied White Oak Pasture's request for compensation. Harris said his resolve to "jump through hoop and hoop" and win the case was hardened when he went to court and saw the judge, courtroom workers, USDA officials with their assistants and his employees all in one room.

"I looked around and realized I was paying the salary of everyone there," said Harris. "After we were denied it became very personal. I felt very disrespected to be denied a rightful claim."


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