The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the shootings of two more Whooping Cranes: one in Wisconsin and another in Indiana.
Wisconsin shooter fined $2,000
A two-year-old female was shot on July 21, 2013, in central Wisconsin. Federal forensics specialists confirmed that the crane had been shot and killed with a .22-caliber bullet.
Matthew Kent Larsen, 28, of New London, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to the crime in a federal court in Green Bay and was sentenced to pay $2,000 in fines: $1,500 in restitution to the International Crane Foundation and a $500 Migratory Bird Treaty Act fine. His hunting and fishing rights were also revoked for two years.
In a statement to law enforcement officers, Larsen said he was on his family property in rural Waupaca County when he saw what he believed to be an albino Sandhill Crane standing in a wheat field on the neighboring property. Larsen said he left the property, borrowed a .22-250-caliber scoped rifle from a friend, and returned a short time later and shot the crane.
“Larsen was remorseful about his actions and realized too late that he made a grave mistake,” said Theodore Dremel, a Wisconsin conservation warden.
The bird, crane 14-11, had been part of the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program, in which young birds are released near older cranes and learn to migrate to the Southeast with them. The bird was released along with several other young cranes in October 2011 at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, and she migrated in subsequent years between Wisconsin and southern states.
After the shooting, Larsen said he texted a friend to tell him he had just shot an albino Sandhill Crane. When the friend told Larsen that he had killed an endangered Whooping Crane, Larson left the area. Larsen said he would not have shot the bird had he known it was a Whooping Crane.
“Regardless of whether Larsen thought he was shooting a Sandhill Crane or a Whooping Crane, they are both federally protected and neither can be legally hunted in Wisconsin,” said Pat Lund, an FWS law enforcement agent and supervisor for Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. “Incidents like this undermine the work of a huge network of conservationists who have worked for decades to bring Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction.”
Beverly Paulan, a tracking pilot with Operation Migration, discovered the bird’s carcass by tracing signals from its transmitter to a wheat field. On Operation Migration’s blog, she describes looking down from her airplane and spotting the bird lying in the field.
“This bird would be of breeding age this year, had she lived,” Paulan writes. “What has this flock lost by her being senselessly shot? What potential genetic diversity would she have added? What have we, as cohabitants of the planet lost? The world is a lot poorer for having lost one of its gems.”
Indiana officials offer $5,000 reward
In December 2013, a four-and-a-half-year-old female Whooping Crane was found shot in southwestern Indiana. A press release says the crane is believed to have been shot in southern Greene County near the White River. Greene County is located southwest of Bloomington.
The bird, crane 35-09, had been released at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin in October 2009 in the DAR program. Over the years, she had paired with a male crane hatched in 2006.
After the shooting, her mate apparently left with other Whoopers and wintered in Tennessee, said Bill Browne, an Indiana law enforcement officer.
Officials did not disclose details about the shooting, but the investigation has lead to dead ends, Browne said. The state is asking for the public’s assistance in solving the crime. A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.
The reward is being offered through the state’s TIP (Turn in a Poacher) Advisory Board, a non-profit organization. Browne said the program works similar to Crime Stoppers — tipsters can remain anonymous.
“Somebody knows what happened,” he said. “Unless you bring them to justice, then there’s still someone out there willing to do this kind of thing again.”
If you have information about the shooting, you can reach law enforcement officers at (800) TIP-IDNR (847-4367) or (317) 346-7016.
21 senseless deaths
The killings bring the number of Whooping Cranes shot to death in recent years to at least 21. Five were shot in Louisiana, including two in February 2014; two were shot in Kentucky; three were shot in Georgia; four, probably five, were shot in Alabama. The latest Indiana shooting is the fourth in the state, and the Wisconsin shooting is the state’s first.
A crane from the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population was also shot in South Dakota in April 2012.
According to the International Crane Foundation, nearly 20 percent of all crane deaths in the eastern migratory population have resulted from illegal shootings. To reduce the number of incidents, the organization has launched an educational campaign called Keeping Whooping Cranes Safe. Spread the word. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor