The killing of two whooping cranes in East Texas earlier this year has drawn the attention of birders and hunters alike.
The case, involving an avid hunter who lived by the mantra “if it flies, it dies”— he described that as his favorite quote on what appears to be his Facebook page — underscores the ongoing threats to the endangered crane even as conservation efforts have boosted the species in recent years.
Trey Joseph Frederick, of Beaumont, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
At least 16 whooping cranes have been shot since 2010, according to information compiled by Lizzie Condon, a whooping crane specialist at the International Crane Foundation.
At nearly 5 feet tall — the tallest bird in North America — and white with rust-colored patches on its head, the whooping crane is an easy target. That is, if you can find it: Continentwide, there are maybe 600 remaining whooping cranes, so called because of their whooping call, and only about 450 in the wild, according to data from the International Crane Foundation, which tracks the birds.
One migratory flock breeds in northern Canada and winters on the Texas coast at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport. The two dead birds found in East Texas one morning in January were part of a Louisiana-based flock.
Before confessing to the crime, Frederick initially told state and federal investigators that another man had shot the cranes and that Frederick had failed to chase him down, according to court documents. One of the shot birds had been mauled by Frederick’s dog, according to the records. In May, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for the “taking” of a whooping crane under the Endangered Species Act, admitting that he did “knowingly possess” an endangered species. (There is not a felony charge associated with violating the Endangered Species Act.)
Frederick faces a fine of up to $50,000 and as much as a year behind bars.
“Frederick should receive maximum fines and penalties for this egregious act,” the International Crane Foundation observed in May.
“The question of Trey Frederick’s just punishment is one I have been wrestling with,” said Judy Boyce, a conservationist who has watched the case closely and is a former board member of Houston Audubon. “I lean toward a permanent revocation of his hunting privileges, which just might serve as a deterrent to other hunters, whereas community service, jail time and fines don’t seem to have much clout.”
She added: “Community service with a nonprofit dedicated to conserving and protecting wildlife might create a little compassion and understanding for our wildlife in Trey — perhaps respect for the enormous investment that has been made by so many to save whoopers from extinction.”
A phone message and email message left with Frederick’s court-appointed attorney were not returned. A message left on Frederick’s Facebook page also was unanswered.
As many as 1,400 whooping cranes migrated across North America in the mid-1800s, according to figures from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. By the late 1930s, the Aransas population was down to just 18 birds, though it has bounced back in recent years due to conservation efforts.
Members of the species mate for life but will accept a new mate if one dies. The cranes can live up to 24 years in the wild.