Sunday, September 21, 2014

Who thinks like that? Cruelty to wildlife is baffling

By David Horst 
September 20, 2014 

Driving west on State 96 short of Medina recently, I saw an impressive turtle sitting just across the centerline.

Based on its size and the height of its rounded shell, I'd guess it was a Blanding's, a threatened species in Wisconsin.

I watched in the rearview mirror as a pickup truck bore down on it and then edged over to avoid the turtle. Once I shed the traffic around me, I turned around and went back to do the Boy Scout routine and help the turtle across the highway.

When I got to the spot, the turtle was gone, apparently already helped to the shoulder by someone else. Faith in humanity restored.

My opinion of some of my fellow Wisconsinites had been flagging after reading about two instances of interaction with wildlife.

One incident was reported in July. Someone went out to a nesting area at Terrell's Island in Lake Butte des Morts and crushed 25 common tern chicks that were 21 days old at most. The common tern is an endangered species in Wisconsin.

It is a sick mind that looks at helpless baby birds and says: Let's see what the bottom of my boot can do to you so I can prove I'm stronger than something.

The culprit has not been identified. The maximum fine is $5,000, plus nine months in jail.

The effect on the Terrell's Island common tern population is serious. The effect on the people who hike the area and enjoy the rare bird species there is a little hole in their souls and a lower opinion of humanity.

Incident No. 2 was the sentencing of a young New London man. He said he saw what he believed to be a white sandhill crane near Ogdensburg. His first reaction, of course, was to get a rifle and shoot it.

Who thinks like that?

As he tells it, he bragged to a friend about the rare bird he had bagged. The friend informed him that it wasn't a white sandhill but an endangered whooping crane. Wisconsin is home to the grand experiment teaching whoopers to migrate to Florida by following ultralight aircraft or by following older birds trained in prior years.

As an aside, the news release from the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this case stated that there is no such thing as a white sandhill. Not true. I've seen one. It was in early December 2005 when my wife and I helped Pat Fisher catch a white sandhill that had trouble flying and had been left behind by the migrating flock. She took it to her New London-area bird rehabilitation center, The Feather. It was nearly all white but still had the red cap of a sandhill, making it not albino but rather a condition called leucistic. Unfortunately, it didn't survive for long.

The New London shooter was caught and given a $500 slap on the wrist by a magistrate in Green Bay. Perhaps more meaningful to him, his hunting rights were suspended — nationwide. He also was ordered to pay restitution of $1,500 to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo.

A spokesperson for Operation Migration — the folks who fly the ultralights — put the cost of getting one of these special whoopers into the wild at more like $100,000. Add to that the cost to the chain of life of whooping cranes being one bird closer to extinction.

DNR Warden Ted Dremel investigated the case with a federal warden. He said he saw the depth of the man's regret and knows he wouldn't have been able to pay a much higher fine. The man told investigators he was going to "do a farmer a favor." Given that he didn't shoot just any sandhill, I suspect he was looking for a trophy.

Dremel is not without emotion in this case either. He followed the whooping crane sightings around Waupaca County and knew its name — Scootcharoo. It was released in 2011, put in with older whooping cranes to learn the migration route. Dremel had taken his kids and nieces and nephews to see it. After all that, he had to see it lying dead in a wheat field.

"It's easy to say it's not enough," Dremel said of the fine. "I'm still very comfortable with our decision."

He stressed the importance of knowing whooping cranes have been spotted in Waupaca and Waushara counties on a regular basis. Whoopers are white, taller than sandhills and have black wing patches visible only in flight.

Dremel had no explanation for how seeing a rare bird would lead someone to want to shoot it. The man, he said, "had a very bad idea."

Thank you, whoever got the turtle across the road. Your act balances the scales, at least a little.

- Source:

Ultralights are used to help whooping cranes migrate to Florida. It’s a grand experiment to help save the species.
 (Photo Courtesy: David Horst,  Post-Crescent Media )

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