"That is not very common," said Tom Tidwell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent in charge of Utah and Colorado. "Typically we have one or two cases in an area at a time, but there are quite a few in Utah, and we're not sure why. The fact that so many deaths are reported-- eagles that died either by shooting or poisoning -- is very significant."
In Colorado where Tidwell is based, they have a fraction of the eagle deaths reported in Utah.
Tidwell, who has been with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for over 10 years and has overseen four states, says that he has never seen anything like this.
Because it's an open investigation, they are not releasing information specific to the eagle killings in Summit County. Other counties where eagle carcasses have been found in the last few years include Carbon, Emery, Millard and Utah Counties.
Captain Tony Wood of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said there are no indications the killings are related, nor does it appear that anyone is using the eagles for purposes of commercialization, as the eagles are all found intact.
"It seems to me to be an issue of people making bad decisions," Wood said. "Here at the agency, we work on investigations where there was a mistake where something was killed. But killing an eagle is just absolutely senseless. We are talking about people who are making a decision to kill an eagle."
The shooting is clearly deliberate, Tidwell added. The poisoning has at times been deliberate; other times could have been due to accidental poisoning when someone was targeting another animal, or when pesticides have been misplaced.
Officials have at times found an eagle carcass over the carcass of a coyote or other animal, indicating another targeted animal was killed with poison and an eagle was poisoned through feeding off the carcass.
"Either way, it's illegal," Tidwell said. "It doesn't matter if you are targeting them or not. It doesn't make any difference for us or for the law."
Golden Eagles are a protected species under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Killing either species could result in penalties of up to $100,000 and up to a year of federal imprisonment.
To curb the killings, officials are offering the public up to $2,500 for information leading to the prosecution of those illegally killing the eagles.
"It is a violation to kill the golden eagle," Wood said. "This is troubling and we cannot make sense why someone would do something like that."