photo by mae.noelle
In November 2008, President George W. Bush pardoned a Missouri soybean farmer who accidentally poisoned three bald eagles in 1995. The eagles were considered an endangered species at the time—They were taken off the list in 2007 but are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act—The farmer was forced to pay $10,000 dollars and spend two years on probation. He also lost the right to vote, hold office and bear arms until pardoned. But was justice served? The Story of the Eagle Poisoner
The farmer, a Mr. Leslie Owen Collier, got it into his head to kill off some coyotes in order to restore the turkey population. He took some hamburger meat, filled it with Furadan—which, by the way, is illegal to use an animal poison—and placed the meat around his farm. His plan worked. Seven coyotes dropped dead, a raccoon died, a great horned owl died and a red-tailed hawk died and, of course, all those eagles died.
Collier said the crime became a felony when the second eagle died. He pleaded guilty in late 1995 and received two years of probation.
So one dead bald eagle is a misdemeanor and two dead bald eagles is a felony. What does three bald eagles make? ( a crowd?)... ( my sincerest apologies for that.)
Competing Schools of Thought on Justice and the Eagle Killer
As you can guess, animal rights groups like PETA are a little more than miffed about the President's decision. On the other hand, the AP story on the Fox News website paints the farmer as someone who made a bonehead error, paid a price and learned from it. I'm going to explore the two arguments a little, and I'll give my actual opinion afterward. Then, hopefully, some of you will be kind enough to chew through my arguments like soggy Vanilla Wafers.
In Defense of the Eagle Killer
Everyone makes mistakes, right? I mean, I've done my fair share of really stupid things. Luckily, none of those things ever resulted in three dead bald eagles. Had I been caught by the police while exploring some of my own horribly dumb and possibly illegal ideas, I may have ended up in jail or prison, although I am a fairly law-abiding citizen who has no criminal record. If Mr. Collier and I are prone to flights of numbskullery, then it stands to reason that most of us have done something equally witless in our past.
Defense of an Eagle Killer Pt. 2
Mr. Collier isn't a serial eagle killer. What he did was just plain dumb. He never intended to kill those eagles. Our legal system takes intent into account when making decisions about murders. If the eagles were humans, Mr. Collier would only be guilty of manslaughter due to gross negligence or something of the sort. Instead of being sentenced to life in prison or given the death penalty, he would be given some leniency. Why shouldn't this leniency be extended to the accidental deaths of bald eagles? He pleaded guilty. He fessed up to the crimes, served his time and deserves this pardon.
In Defense of the Bald Eagles
Mr. Colliers didn't really lose much. He's a self-employed farmer. He doesn't have to worry about the felony conviction hurting his ability to get jobs. He feels that people look at him differently, because of his crimes but probably suffers no significant social stigma, except among animal rights activists who, I would venture to guess, he doesn't frequently associate with. Some people write mean things about him on the internet, but he can just choose not read those sites. Sure, he has lost the right to vote. He's lost the right to hold office, but who is going to vote for a guy who unlawfully uses pesticides to poison bald eagles? Most importantly, he's lost the right to bear arms. It was his love of hunting that got him into this mess. He killed animals in a very irresponsible and negligent manner. And if he was a real hunter concerned about the growing coyote population, then why didn't he just hunt the coyotes in a sporting manner?
In Defense of the Bald Eagles
A state representative named Black helped Mr. Collier obtain his pardon. Black said this:
"Everybody down here feels he was taken advantage of by a bunch of slick-tongued lawyers and prosecutors."
Slick-tongued lawyers? Killing a bald eagle with any type of poison is illegal. There's nothing slick about it.
The law states:
[The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits] the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit Bald Eagle sitting in tree (16 U.S.C. 668(a); 50 CFR 22). "Take" includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, POISON, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb
He used poison and it killed an eagle. That's clearly against the law. He also used a pesticide illegally to kill animals. He is also guilty there. The maximum fine for felony bald eagle killing is $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. Collier paid $10,000 dollars and spend two years on probation.
Those slick-tongued lawyers sure gave it to him. He's already gotten off easy. He does not deserve this pardon. It's unfortunate that justice wasn't actually served. Those lawyers' tongues may have been too slick.
Eagle Killer: My 2 Cents
In my humble opinion, this guy made a bonehead mistake, but that doesn't excuse him. If I could hand out rulings like a dentist hands out lollipops, I would restore his right to vote, his right to hold office and remove most of the stigma that a felony charge brings to a person. However, I wouldn't restore his right to own guns. Colliers showed little regard for nature, the environment or the animals he hunts. There are legal and ecologically better ways of restoring the turkey population than placing illegally poisoned meat about his farm. I assume* he wanted the coyotes dead, so there would be more turkeys for him to hunt. It could have been hunter-lust that drove him to this crime.Removing his right to hunt would be an apt and just punishment.
* I, apparently,assume wrong. Mr. Collier claims he was just helping the turkeys thrive. But I'm going to stick by my judgment.
But what do you think?