Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lighter Fine Likely in 2 Bird Deaths State Penalty Less for Killing Cranes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lighter Fine Likely in 2 Bird Deaths State Penalty Less for Killing Cranes

Article excerpt

ST. AUGUSTINE -- A St. Augustine man cited with four misdemeanor charges in the shooting deaths of two endangered whooping cranes may only pay a fraction of what could have been a six-figure federal fine because he was charged by the state instead.

William Bush Jr., 18, is scheduled to appear Dec. 19 in St. Johns County Court on two counts of taking a species of special concern and two counts of taking wildlife from a county road right of way, said Lt. Robert Lee of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

He faces up to 60 days in jail per count or a $500 fine per count. He could have faced as much as $250,000 per count and a year in jail.

Roger Van Ghent of the St. Johns County Audubon Society said the organization wants to see the federal Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Birds Act, which carry the harsher penalties, enforced.

"We think it is outrageous that the federal agency is not enforcing its own law," he said, mentioning that the group has contacted its lawyer to see what can be done. "What kind of message does that send to people who want to take advantage of these laws? Why bother if it's not being enforced?"

Federal officials said they do not have their own evidence to base any charges on because they were not included enough in the state's investigation nor notified when Florida officials found the suspect.

"There is nothing we can do right now," said Joe Oliveros, special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville. "They've already charged him in the state court, so there's not a lot we can do."

Oliveros said the federal agency was "cut out of the investigation" and not advised of any of the leads or interviews. The state asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do the investigation; however, it continued to investigate without updating the federal officers, Oliveros said.

Lee said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did participate in the investigation and was provided with information and documentation.

"It is our understanding that they can file charges if they wish," he said, but would not elaborate on the discrepancies.

The state fine is substantially lower than the federal fine because while the birds are considered an endangered species by the federal government, they are not considered endangered according to state statutes set by the Florida Legislature, said Tracey S. …

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