Wildlife law violators pay the hefty price

Crime stories make national headlines every day, but violations of wildlife law usually escape the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean federal conservation laws are ignored.

Recent stories

Here are just a few recent stories featured on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Web site.

In Florida, two Georgia-based construction firms were fined $70,000 and put on probation for one year for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

While working for a residential real estate company in Seminole County, the companies used heavy equipment to destroy a tree containing a bald eagle nest, “on or about January 21, 2005.”

Also in Florida, Max Moghaddam and the Bemka Corporation House of Caviar and Fine Foods were recently sentenced for illegally exporting the roe (eggs) of American paddlefish to Brussels.

Moghaddam was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $100,000. Bemka Corporation was fined $200,000.

Paddlefish have been protected since 1992 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). More than 170 countries participate in CITES to protect certain species from commercial exploitation that reduces their ability to survive in the wild.

No permits

None of the participants had obtained any required permits, and the paddlefish were fraudulently identified on invoices and customs documents as “bowfin.”

In Alaska, Christopher Rowland was sentenced to 37 months in prison and fined $5,000 for his conviction on four counts of violating the Lacey Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Lacey Act, the first national wildlife law, was enacted in 1900 to assist states in enforcing their wildlife laws. It prohibits the interstate transport and sale of wildlife taken in violation of state, tribal, or federal law.

Crimes

Rowland’s crimes included illegally hunting, killing and exporting sea otters, sea lions and harbor seals and illegally selling their pelts to brokers in Korea.

He based his plans on information he had learned by anonymously contacting various wildlife agencies for information on marine mammal rules and regulations.

Rowland used his understanding of wildlife law to conceal his activities. He also used agency data to learn the areas where sea otters and sea lions concentrated their activities.

In conversations with undercover agents, Rowland revealed that, though he had already taken 75 sea otters and several pups, he was “just getting started.”

He planned to take 40 to 50 hides per month.

Eagles

In Washington, four men were recently arrested and will be prosecuted for the illegal killing and trade of bald and golden eagles and other protected birds.

They sold the birds, feathers and body parts to undercover agents, all violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.

The maximum penalty for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is two years in prison and a $250,000 fine; violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $250,000 fine and violations of the Lacey Act can carry penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Laws taken seriously

Federal authorities take wildlife conservation laws seriously.

“As with so many instances regarding the conservation and use of our natural resources, the illegal actions of a few selfish individuals have the potential to hurt the interests of the majority of people show respect the resource,” said Paul Chang, special agent in charge of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region.

“It is alarming that eagles, sacred to many, could be at risk because of the illegal greed-driven actions of relatively few individuals.”

Sacred

Eagles and other protected migratory birds are considered sacred to many Native American cultures and their feathers are used in a variety of religious and spiritual ceremonies.

By law, federally recognized members of Native American tribes may obtain federal permits to possess eagle parts for ceremonial purposes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository to collect eagles that die naturally or accidentally. Sources include zoos and state and federal agencies.

Purpose

The purpose of the Repository is to provide a legal source of eagle parts to eliminate the demand for illegal killing.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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