SMITHVILLE, Mo. -- Smithville Lake is a popular tourist destination. It's also the latest scene of a crime, where a bald eagle was shot out of the sky. Conservation officers say that's happened twice this year in Missouri.
Daniel Schepis from the Missouri Department of Conservation works to protect nature every day. He says people around the lake are still unsteady, less than six weeks after a bald eagle was shot near the lake. Schepis says hikers found the dead bird shot to pieces.
"This is always something that upsets people," Schepis said. "It's the symbol of our nation being shot down."
Schepis says another eagle was shot in Caldwell County back in January. Two government agencies are seeking the gunmen, and working to see that this threatened species is defended.
"We have several nests here at Smithville Lake," Schepis said. "People love to come out and see them."
The US Army Corps of Engineers owns about 20-thousand acres at Smithville Lake.
Derek Dorsey calls Smithville Lake his office. He's a ranger who serves as lake manager for USACE.
"They're rare," Dorsey said. "You don't see them every day. Some people haven't seen one in their lifetime."
And at times, Dorsey seen as many as 150 eagles nesting near the lake.
Dorsey says he isn't sure anything can be done to completely protect the eagles from the threat of man. However, he's counting on their presence. Smithville Lake draws four million tourists per year, according to his agency. Many of them are here as bird watchers.
"We have a big influx of eagles that come to the lake every year during the winter time," Dorsey said.
"There aren't too many places where you can reliably go and see a bald eagle," Schepis said. "Smithville Lake is unique in that regard."
Investigations are underway by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation, and there's a reward for information.