By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Two master falconers, including one from West Michigan, have admitted that they conspired to illegally trade in wildlife and cover up the transportation of a female northern goshawk across state lines.
Edward Taylor of Fruitport and James Kitzman of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that bans trafficking in wildlife, fish, and plants that are illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Madison.
In late 2016 through August 2017, Taylor and Kitzman “arranged to barter a northern goshawk taken from the wild in Vilas County, Wisconsin, in exchange for a captive-bred Finnish goshawk, and then cover up the receipt and transport of the northern goshawk from Wisconsin to Michigan,” the prosecution said.
The law makes it illegal to barter or sell northern goshawks because they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The “Audubon Guide to North American Birds” describes the northern goshawk, a migratory species, as “a powerful predator of northern and mountain woods” that “hunts inside the forest or along its edge.” It takes its prey “by putting on short bursts of amazingly fast flight, often twisting among branches and crashing through thickets in the intensity of pursuit.”
Under their plea agreements, Taylor will get a $10,000 fine when sentenced on Feb. 25, while Kitzman will be fined $15,000 on March 2. Neither man will go to jail.
The maximum penalty is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The charges followed an investigation led by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Michigan Department of Natural Resources assisted by conducting interviews, and the probe didn’t identify any violations in Michigan, department communications director Ed Goldner said.
Here’s what happened, according to court documents:
Prosecutors alleged that Kitzman and three associates identified only as “S.C,” “B.C.” and “D.K.” illegally took two male goshawk nestlings from a nest in northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest on May 26, 2017. The same day, they took two more goshawk nestlings from a nest located on state land in Vilas County.
Taylor wasn’t present when the nestlings were taken but traveled to Kitzman’s home the next day to get one of the birds taken from state land. He brought it back to Fruitport a day later.
Kitzman told B.C. that he “was giving the female goshawk nestling to Taylor because Taylor had previously given him a captive-bred Finnish goshawk, and he owed Taylor a bird,” the criminal charge said. “It was further part of the conspiracy that after the taking of the female goshawk nestling, Kitzman told S.C. and B.C. to ‘keep it hush-hush and not tell anybody.’”
Both Taylor and Kitzman falsified documents submitted to their respective DNRs, the charges said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Graber, the prosecutor handling the case, said nobody else will be charged.
Under the plea agreement, Taylor will give the goshawk to a raptor education group or rehabilitation center selected by the Fish and Wildlife Service. He’ll surrender the bird when he’s sentenced, and it will then be transferred to a rehabilitator, Graber said.
Taylor’s defense lawyer, Michael Oakes of Lansing, Michigan, said the two men had been friends for 39 years.
“My client committed a Lacey Act violation by submitting documentation stating that he obtained the bird directly out of the wild when in actuality he obtained the bird from Kitzman,” Oakes said. “When federal authorities first questioned Taylor, he stuck with the cover-up story that he obtained the northern goshawk directly from the wild.”
Oakes said, “Taylor has been a falconer for over 40 years and loves his birds. He believes this goshawk is the best one he has ever trained, and if released to the wild in the spring it will not have any trouble surviving.
“He feels horrible about his actions and hates that his desire for a northern goshawk caused him to participate in the aforementioned activities,” Oakes said. “Although, he has other birds in his care, for him it’s extremely painful to be forced to relinquish the best hawk he has ever trained, knowing that at his age he will not again assume the responsibility of raising and training another bird.”
Under his plea deal, Kitzman agreed not to “engage in the sport of falconry worldwide” during his three-year probation. In addition, he’ll forfeit the pickup used to illegally transport the northern goshawk to the Wisconsin DNR.