The investigation into what could be the largest raptor poaching case in the state of California continues, according to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife officer in Sacramento.
Standish rancher Richard Parker, 67, was booked into the Lassen County Jail on Monday, March 12, on multiple charges including take of birds of prey, take of migratory non-game birds as designated by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, take of other non-game birds and possession of wildlife unlawfully taken. Additional charges may be added as the investigation proceeds.
Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon said after Parker’s arrest, CDFW officers booked him at the Lassen County Detention Center on a fish and game violation and issued him a citation. He did not have to post bail to be released.
After Parker’s arrest, CDFW Captain Patrick Foy called this a “significant case,” and he said he and other investigators have never seen a raptor poaching case involving this many birds of prey.
On Thursday, March 29, Foy said the alleged crime has attracted wide attention from the media and wildlife groups.
“They’re [investigators] still working on it,” Foy said. “Obviously it’s a pretty big case that involves a lot of pieces to the puzzle, so we’re trying to put everything together. At this point, the case hasn’t even been filed yet … It’s something the local wildlife officers are taking very seriously. They’ll put their report together and file it with the district attorney’s office.”
Foy said fish and wildlife officers have jurisdiction to enforce both federal and state fish and wildlife laws, and he expects Parker will first face state charges to be filed with the Lassen County District Attorney.
“Typically we start at the state level,” Foy said, “and as the investigation continues they’ll decide if there are any elements of federal level crimes, and if that’s the case, that will be included as part of the investigation, and they’ll take the appropriate action … That will be part of the puzzle as well.”
Some Lassen County residents have called the paper to report Parker allegedly had been baiting the raptors in order to protect a pheasant hunting club on his ranch.
Foy said he had heard those rumors as well, but he couldn’t confirm that allegation.
But he said, “It’s interesting to see that many (killed raptors) in such a small area. It also helped to have the [CDFW] dogs there, too. They can help find them. They’re pretty good at finding the pieces and parts that we would overlook that are in some level of decay or have fallen into an area that’s difficult to sort through.”
According to a previous statement from CDFW, the investigation began after wildlife officers received an anonymous tip from a resident who reportedly saw a man killing a hawk near the town of Standish.
Investigators suspect the raptors were shot with a rifle at a distance and their bodies were left where they fell as many carcasses were found near telephone poles and fence posts.
According to Foy, many of the carcasses investigators discovered were in a state of decay, but those carcasses could still be identified as raptors. And he said some of the birds had been recently killed.
“Some [of the carcasses] were quite recent,” Foy said. “They still had fresh, red blood.”
During a search of Parker’s 80-acre ranch near Standish last month, investigators found 126 dead raptors, all in various states of decay. Most of the birds were red tail hawks, but at least one dead owl was found, as well as an uncommon migratory ferruginous hawk. Officers also located two dead bobcats, one taxidermied mountain lion and other non-game birds, all suspected to be unlawfully taken.
Standish is located near Honey Lake and the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, with habitat that supports a rich diversity and quantity of wildlife. The sheer number of birds poached on the 80-acre property will undoubtedly affect the raptor population in the immediate area, according to investigators.
According to a statement announcing Parker’s arrest, “Each potential violation is a misdemeanor poaching crime at the state level, with maximum penalties of six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine per each raptor. An unlawfully taken mountain lion could result in up to a $10,000 penalty. Each potential federal crime could result in additional penalties.”
“Poaching crimes of this egregious nature against raptors is unprecedented in California,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess. “The local raptor population may take years to recover from these killings.”
Staff at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova is working to positively identify the species of all of the birds.