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7 Fined for Killing Rare Birds
BY MICHAEL PEARCE
Reprinted from The Wichita Eagle, October 1, 2005
Seven Kansas hunters were fined $3,000 each in U.S. District Court
on Friday for last
fall's killing of two endangered whooping
cranes. According to the terms of their plea agreements, they
also had their hunting privileges suspended for two years and must
pass a state-approved hunter education
course within the next year.
The seven men are also required to perform 50 hours of community service each.
That service will be administered by the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Kenny Kessler and Phil Kirkland,
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks natural resource officer, said the
men cooperated during the investigation.
None of the men had previous wildlife-related violations.
Sentenced were Michael L. Burke, 33, of Great Bend; Chad M. Churchill, 34,
of Ellinwood; Kim Churchill, 53, of Ellinwood; Scott L. Hjetland, 33, of Chase;
Ronald Laudick, 50, of Hudson; Mark S. Ricker, 33, of Raymond; and Lonnie J.
Winkleman, 33, of Lyons.
As a group, they also must pay $2,586.75 in restitution, which is the cost
of veterinary care for attempting to save the injured cranes.
The men were charged with illegally killing a protected migratory bird, a misdemeanor
that carries a maximum fine of $15,000 and six months in jail. The Kansas shooting
occurred Nov. 6 in Stafford County, while the men were legally hunting sandhill
cranes and geese. Kessler said the men mistook the whoopers for sandhill cranes
under poor light conditions during the early morning.
The wounded birds were discovered on neighboring properties later that day.
One died at Kansas State University's Veterinary Hospital, the other at a Maryland
crane research facility about a month later.
It was the first case of a whooping crane being shot by legal sandhill crane
hunters in the United States and the first known whoopers shot in Kansas. The
shooting drew worldwide media attention, and word of the penalties spread quickly
to whooping crane fans on Friday.
"I was hoping for more than what transpired," said Tom Stehn, the Fish
and Wildlife Service's whooping crane coordinator. "The frustrating thing
is, these birds are irreplaceable. But no court action's going to bring the birds
Stehn said the federal agency invests about $165,000 in each captive-raised
whooping crane chick they introduce into a fall migration. The killed birds
were believed to be wild-hatched birds, making their way from Canada to south
Stehn, based at the bird's Texas wintering grounds, is expecting about 235
wild whoopers to migrate south this fall. That's a record high, up from about
1982, and 217 last December.
Last fall's shooting brought changes in this year's sandhill crane season in
Kansas, including a later starting date and later start of legal shooting hours. The
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is also stepping up its education program
to help hunters distinguish whoopers from sandhill cranes.
"Hopefully we're on the right track," Stehn said. "These birds
are so danged valuable, and so many people care so much about them."
Reach Eagle outdoors writer Michael Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2005 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.
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