The two people who pleaded guilty in the 2009 shooting of Whooping Crane 17-02 (shown here with her mate, 11-02) each received one year of probation, were charged approximately $550 in legal fees and court costs, and were fined $1 for the crime.
Wade Bennett of Cayuga, Indiana, and a juvenile pleaded guilty in state court in Vermillion County, Indiana, and were sentenced on March 30, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The juvenile's name was not released because he is a minor.
The shooting occurred on November 30, 2009, near a rural county road just east of the Illinois state line. The Indiana conservation officer in Vermillion County had received information "about a group of boys who were road hunting," said Special Agent Buddy Shapp of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "They would drive around shooting whatever (animals) they saw, kind of like target practice. They had been squirrel hunting, and then they came upon a large white bird and just shot it."
Shapp said he believes the two adults cranes were together at the time but doesn't know why 11-02 was not also killed. "We don't know if he flew off or what," he said.
The unnamed juvenile pulled the trigger, Shapp said, and he was charged with unlawful take of an endangered species. Bennett, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was charged with providing false information.
Rewards totaling almost $10,000 were publicized shortly after the shooting, and they led to a tip. Shapp said a person contacted him with information that led to the charges. He said the reward money will be paid to the tipster. "On a lot of our cases, we rely on people who see or hear things that are out of the ordinary to come forward," he said.
Shapp said the U.S. Attorney's Office for southern Indiana declined to charge Bennett and the youth with federal crimes, such as violations of the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, because a juvenile was involved in the case. He said it is not standard practice for federal prosecutors to decline to charge juveniles in wildlife crimes, and when asked how he felt about the lack of federal charges in this case, he declined to comment.The prosecutor in Vermillion County who brought the charges was not available for comment Tuesday.
The crane that was shot was the first, and for a long time, the only female in the eastern migratory population to hatch a chick and raise it to independence. She and her mate hatched two chicks in the summer of 2006 at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. One died but the second, named W1-06, followed its parents to Florida, found a mate, and is currently nesting at Necedah. (We told the story of the so-called first family and other reintroduced cranes in a feature article in our April 2007 issue.)Past shootings of Whooping Cranes in the western population brought stronger sentences. In 2004, a man who shot and killed a crane in Texas pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to six months in prison and fined more than $10,000 ($8,100 in state fines and $2,025 in federal fines). A year later in Kansas, seven hunters who shot and killed two cranes were fined $23,586. They each spent two years on probation and had to perform 50 hours of community service.
This past winter, three Whooping Cranes were shot and killed in Georgia and two were shot and killed in Alabama. A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said today the investigations into the crimes are ongoing. To report information on the deaths of the birds in Georgia, contact Special Agent Terry Hasting at (404) 763-7959 or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources 24-hour TIP Hotline at (800) 241-4113. To report information on the deaths of the birds in Alabama, contact Special Agent John Rawls at (334) 285-9600 or e-mail him at email@example.com. —Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
Update, April 20, 11:50 a.m.: The amount of the legal fees and court costs has been corrected to approximately $550; an earlier version of this article reported the amount to be about $300. The total fines charged to the crane killer in Texas has been corrected to include $8,100 in state fines.
Photo: Whooping Cranes 17-02 and 11-02 raise their necks and call at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in fall 2006. They were the first birds in the eastern migratory population to successfully raise a chick. Photo by Richard Urbanek/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A $1.00 fine for killing a Whooping Crane? Please tell me this is a typo. If not, the fine is criminal and does nothing to deter a repeat of the behavior. -Brian Zwiebel
Nope, it's not a typo, Brian.
Hi Matt, I have never been more disgusted. The sentencing in this case is a joke and does nothing to deter a repeat of the behavior. Illegal hunting/poaching of white-tailed deer generally results in large fines and forfeiture of vehicles and firearms used in commission of the crime. In recent cases, huge restitution sums have been ordered to be paid for these cowardly acts. Basically if these guys stay out of trouble for one year they get off for the price of a lottery ticket without further consequence. I hope we haven't inconvenienced them too much. -BZ
The prosecutor & judge should be sanctioned & an investigation launched to determine if they were paid off and/or had a conflict of interest. Justice was not served here & the court got their money. What a JOKE! The $10,000 reward for the info leading to the perps was probably their family. BirdWatching should start a petition to be sent to All Indiana representatives serving at the State and Federal levels. This is an endangered species!!!
The shooter was a juvenile and the Dept. of Justice decline to pursue charges under ESA or MBTA. The case was handed over to the local courts. Because the shooter was a juvenile we don't know his exact penalty. The adult was charged with providing false information NOT killing a whooping crane. Headlines such as "Only $1 fine for killing a whooping crane" are inflammatory and just plain wrong. We don't know what punishment the juvenile received.
As I reported in my article, the juvenile received the same punishment as the adult. This is according to Special Agent Shapp, who investigated the crime.
Matt, thanks for that info. I had not heard that. I had heard from USFWS that we couldn't know the juveniles details because he's a juvenile, so I was operating under that assumption. In this case, yes, it is depressing that the judge didn't find a creative way to penalize these two. I would have sentenced them to habitat restoration every Saturday for a year. They need to give back from which they took.
This is certainly a slap in the face to anyone that is concerned about wildlife conservation.
My gut emotional reaction to this crime is a punishment of public cruxifixtion, that is just my outrage talking.
Although I cannot believe that fines and jail time would help. I think a crime of this nature requires a person go through mandatory community service with a wildlife organization on the order of several hundred hours. Probably the only way to rescue this person from their appalling path in life. If that doesn't work then jail time would be the next approach.
This "punishment" is indeed outrageous. I agree that there should have been significant (hundreds of hours) community service assigned to both. I would also add that they should have been required to relinquish any rights to hunt/kill wildlife for a least five years each with a stipulation of huge fines if caught violating the provision of no hunting or killing of any wildlife.
Not surprising considering how lots of the human race treat animals. People are pathetic and the white trash that killed the whooping crane should be punished severely. The whooping crane is endangered...stupid humans (and there are plenty of them around) are not.