Minnesota pheasant farm charged with killing owls, hawks

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Feds charge men with killing protected birds west of Brainerd

Margaret Zack, Mnpls Star Tribune

May 23, 2002

Five Minnesota men and a company that raised pheasants for release into the wild for hunting have been charged with killing about 100 owls and hawks protected by federal law.

The red-tailed hawks and great horned owls were killed to prevent them from preying on the pheasants, which were kept in pens near Bertha, in central Minnesota about 40 miles west of Brainerd, officials said.

Leg-hold traps on poles 8 to 10 feet high were allegedly used to snare the predators. When the birds' feet hit the traps, they were caught and would hang upside down until they died from struggling or were shot or clubbed, said Dick Dickinson, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in St. Paul.

Charged in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on Tuesday with misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act were Gary R. Westergren of Plymouth; Andrew M. Suchy of Parkers Prairie; Tim W. Erp of New York Mills, and William Shaw and Bradley S. Kneisl, both of Bertha.

Also charged was Ringnecks Forevermore, a group incorporated in May 1999.

That group is not affiliated with Pheasants Forever, a national nonprofit dedicated to conservation of pheasants and their habitat, Dickinson said.

The pheasants were raised to be hunted on land owned by Ringnecks Forevermore near Bertha, Dickinson said.

"That area won't support pheasants naturally because the habitat is not correct," Dickinson said. And he said birds raised in captivity don't have strong chances of surviving in the wild.

"These are pheasants with no clue," he said.

In addition, Dickinson said, proper precautions weren't taken to protect the pheasants from predators.

Instead of using double netting over the pheasant pens, single-layer netting was used, which didn't prevent owls from getting to the pheasants, he said.

When the owls would fly toward the caged pheasants, the birds would jump up and the owls would take them right through the net, Dickinson said.

He said club documents advocated predator control, which meant getting rid of owls and hawks.

"If you double-net, you take away the food source, so you don't need to kill predators," Dickinson said.

He said the club, which raised thousands of pheasants, considered raising and releasing them for recreational and conservation efforts.

Dickinson's agency conducted a covert investigation after receiving a tip. The charges said the defendants and Ringnecks Forevermore helped one another to kill the birds from about May 27, 1999 through May 30, 2001.

The investigation took a year, and it took another year to file charges.

The men have not made court appearances.

If convicted, they face fines of as much as $15,000 and six months in confinement. The corporation could be fined as much as $15,000.

-- Margaret Zack is at mzack@startribune.com .
 


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