US Falconer sentenced to 10 days in prison and fines totalling $8600 for taking Peregrines illegally.

I know the story I am sending to Raptor Politics is an old story which took place last summer, but we are starting to see more of this with the North American Falconry Association starting to really push for a wild falcon takes in all 50 states of the United States. Montana not only has a legal wild take quota and additionally captive raised falcons for sale, but now allows other falconers from all American states to apply for a permit to remove chicks out of their eyrie. One of the men named in the above story was arrested back in the 80’s during Operation Falcon.

Byron Crow, Ex. Dir. Montana Raptor Institute for Research & Education

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Byron Crow peregrine hunting in Montana

A few Storm Petrels ago, I reported the beginning of a story—about a Port Orford birdwatcher and Kalmoipsis Audobon Society member who, through a spotting scope in her kitchen, watched a man rappel into the cliff-side nest of a peregrine falcon. When the man climbed back up the cliff, only one of three chicks remained in the eyrie. She and other neighbours called the police, and the men were questioned, but the missing chicks were nowhere to be found. Since then, local, state, and federal agencies carried out a careful investigation, and in December 2010, three men were convicted of stealing the falcon chicks. Two were sentenced, and the third man’s case will go to trial this spring 2011.

At the sentencing, District Attorney Everett Dial introduced the case along with assistant Bob Webber. Dial explained that all the defendants had state permits and could have legally taken the birds, but instead they stashed the chicks, lied to police, fled the area, and denied wrongdoing. Mr. Dial showed images taken by local photographer Lois Miller that showed three falcon chicks before the theft and only one after. Cindy Bockstadter of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the defendants had been given a privilege to take birds legally, but then they lied, deceived investigators, and hid evidence. Still no one knows what happened to the chicks.

The first defendant, Burt Loessberg, a businessman from the Eugene area and an avid falconer, had a record of two previous violations of the Migratory Bird Act. Loessberg said he did not realize that he was on private property and didn’t think that notifying ODFW was a requirement. He said that he “freaked out” when the police and neighbours showed up, stuffed the chicks in a bag, tossed it in the bushes, and told local police that he was just monitoring the nest. He returned to the site soon afterwards to retrieve the chicks.

Mr. Skankey, a scientist for a well-known Oregon clothing company in the Portland area and also an avid falconer, depicted himself as a person who just went along for the ride. He explained that he’d been invited to help by rappelling down the cliff to the nest but believed that permits and permissions were taken care of by the others. After climbing back up the cliff and finding the police and neighbours waiting, he went along with the lie but soon realized his wrongdoing. He pleaded guilty early on and assisted the state and federal agents with the investigation.

Mr. Loessberg was convicted of felony first-degree theft and violation of wildlife law as a misdemeanour and was given a sentence of 10 days in the county jail, a lengthy probation, 250 hours of community service, revocation of his falconry license, plus fines totalling $8,600. Mr. Skankey was convicted of first-degree theft as a misdemeanour and criminal trespass. He was sentenced to a 36-week probation, fines of $2,500, 400 hours of community service, and revocation of his falconry license. Both men had additional charges dropped as part of a plea bargain agreement made in late November.

Martin Nugent of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) said that this case has been watched by wildlife management agencies around the nation. Most wildlife crimes are prosecuted only at the misdemeanour level, but in this case, District Attorney Dial had sufficient evidence to pursue felony charges. Efforts of local law-enforcement officers and citizens, plus the attention the DA’s assistant, Bob Webber, made the convictions possible.

As recently as 1980, the state of Oregon had only one peregrine falcon nest; DDT had decimated the species. Owing to conservation efforts over the past 30 years, peregrines have rebounded. There were 156 nests in 2009. With recovery has come the demand for sport “take” by falconers. Last year was the first year of the sport-take program with 7 permits offered by lottery.

As a result of this case and all the concern it generated, the ODFW has worked together with Portland Audubon and the Oregon Falconers Association to develop a new set of rules. Next year, falconers will no longer be allowed to take chicks from nests. Instead, they will be encouraged instead to accept “bridge birds”—chicks taken for safety reasons by a licensed wildlife professional from nests built in urban settings. Some permit-holding falconers may still opt to take wild birds, but only in the post-fledgling stage. This is regarded as an important reform.

7 comments to US Falconer sentenced to 10 days in prison and fines totalling $8600 for taking Peregrines illegally.

  • Gary Wall

    Might be worth remember that the only reason that Peregrines are resident again in many parts of the US is because falconers established a re-introduction programme in the form of the Peregrine Fund when the Anatum Peregrine was pretty much extinct in the eastern US and now USFWS are closing down commercial breeders through their manipulation of Cites regulations, those same breeders that pioneered captive breeding techniques that saved the Peregrine in the US.

  • Mike Price

    I know a good number of falconers and a lot of them are great guys, interested in wild birds, as well as their captive bred counterparts.

    The work that some of these guys do for conservation of wild raptors all over the world is often vital and should be applauded but that doesn’t give them the right to break any of the laws the rest of society have to live by.

    I am afraid I am ignorant of the manipulation of CITES regulations that you mention but there have been prosecutions in the UK where bird breeders have not been able to provide documentary evidence that the birds were not wild birds, it could well be that the breeders birds were captive bred but without being able to prove this how are they supposed to ensure that they are not illegally traded wild birds?

  • Falcoscot

    Pieces of paper dont prove anything, they just keep civil servants in jobs, DNA proves parentage and has been available for some years, if there is any question regarding whether a bird is captive bred samples will be taken for DNA testing,DNA can now even be extracted from egg membranes for proof of parentage. There is no such thing of “documentary evidence” proving anything !
    From what my Amercian friends tell me the guy in the article had licenses to take young birds but made the mistake of going onto private property to take the birds without the landowners permission and paniced when he’d been found out, that’s what got him into trouble !
    Wildlife crime should mean crime against wildlife, certain goverment agencies and NGO’s like to muddy the waters by throwing in paperwork offenses to support their own agendas, the two should be kept seperate so we know exactly what crime is being committed against wild raptors.
    Falconers have been conserving raptors for at least 400 years (et al JNCC) and have had a hand in just about every raptor conservation programme going anywhere in the world. There are bad apples in all walks of life but it’s better to look at the broader picture than focus on negatives. Falconry to positive to the conservation of wild raptor populations.

  • Mike Price

    Currently when we ring raptors in this area we take DNA via buccal samples and submit them to the national database in a bid to stop illegal practices that go on (not all falconers are legit).
    I know people don’t like paperwork but it is there to protect the bird breeder, the buyer and the wild birds, no different from other areas of business.

    If what you say is correct then this gentleman clearly knew he shouldn’t of been interfering with those birds without permission from the landowner, something we also have to ensure we receive before we are allowed to ring them, the point being we have to stay within the rules/laws, why should it be diffent for anyone else?

  • Falcoscot

    Yeah, and I sometimes drive at 80 on a 70 mph motorway but that doesn’t make me a bad person does it ?
    The guy did wrong and he got punished for it but why do you feel the need to drag this out something like a year after it happened ?
    Not all biologists or ornitholgists are legit either, some disturbing birds at the nest without the appropiate license. The point I was trying to make was that if it wasn’t for falconers it’s unlikely that there would be a healthy Peregrine population in the US, I think you should consider this before dragging old news out like this post.
    You have even made reference to “Operation Falcon”, this was the USFWS two million dollar sting operation that tried to uncover a middle eastern falcon smuggling ring that didn’t exist with the result that the biggest supplier of wild Gyr Falcons to the Middle East was the US Government themsleves, taking 36 Gyr Falcons from the wild to use for the sting operation.
    Next time you’re out watching wild Peregrine maybe you should remember who put them there………..falconers !

    • Admin

      Raptor Politics are aware that throughout the United States falconers work hand in hand with scientists and raptor biologists and have been at the forefront of raptor conservation for over 40 years. Indeed many are still closely involved and helped to establish the “Peregrine Fund”.

      Unfortunately here in the UK this sensible transition and cooperation is just not happening. Since a strong captive breeding programme was first set up in the UK falconers have been able to self regulate themselves and today they are almost 100% legitimate. Unfortunately you will never eradicate the criminal element altogether, but in general falconers today in the UK no longer pose any threat to wild populations.

      No one should forget either the current success of the goshawk population is down to falconers who introduced birds into the wild beginning in the early 1960’s or lost additional birds accidentally. The threat to UK raptors without any doubt is now a result of their persecution which appears in many quarters to be getting much worst not better even in the twenty first century.

  • Falcoscot

    I hope that one day UK falconers / breeders will work more closely with raptor study groups to secure the future of our UK raptor population and help address the persecution they face today. I can appreciate that a certain distrust may still be there in some part from the events of the bad old days but we need to overcome this for the sake of the birds that hold our mutual fascination.