A 19-year-old Southeast Texas man was sentenced Tuesday to five years probation in the killing of two whooping cranes in Jefferson County earlier this year.
Trey Joseph Frederick, of Beaumont, had pleaded guilty in the endangered species case, winning scorn from birders and hunters alike. As part of his probation, Frederick is prohibited for five years from owning or possessing firearms, ammunition or any other dangerous weapon, according to the sentence handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn. He is also prohibited from hunting or fishing anywhere in the United States for five years.
“The fact that this act of senseless cruelty was universally condemned by the local community, who along with landowners played a vital role in this case being solved quickly, sends a strong message to future game law criminals,” said Col. Craig Hunter, director of law enforcement at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which worked with federal authorities to investigate the case.
The whooping crane stands nearly 5 feet tall, making it the tallest bird in North America. Continent wide, there are an estimated 600 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.
Before confessing to the crime, Frederick initially told 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 faced a fine of up to $50,000 and as much as a year behind bars.
Frederick, who has begun a career as a welder, was ordered to pay more than $25,000 in restitution, including $12,907.50 to both the International Crane Foundation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. Frederick must also perform 200 hours of community service.
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.
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.
A phone message and email message left with Frederick’s court-appointed attorney were not returned. Frederick apologized in court, according to Liz Smith, Texas Program Director of the International Crane Foundation.
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 as long as 24 years in the wild.