International Crane Foundation to Get $85,000 Restitution

by Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

On Friday, April 20, 2012, the Whooping Crane Conservation announced that a whooping crane from the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock had been killed in South Dakota. This bird was a member of the only remaining wild flock of whoopers in the world. In 1950 only 14 cranes from this flock remained. They were carefully managed and protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service with assistance from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. This flock has slowly increased and about 300 whoopers are in this flock today.

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association posted a $10,000 Reward for the conviction of any individuals responsible for the killing of the whooping crane (see Reward notice below). Later, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents independently determined that Jeff Blachford, Miller, South Dakota had killed the whooping crane and Blachford was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 12, 2012.

Yesterday the hearing for Blachford was completed. United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that the Miller, South Dakota man pled guilty and was sentenced for killing an endangered whooping crane.   Jeff Blachford, age 26, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on February 13, 2013 and pled guilty to one count of violating the Federal Endangered Species Act. Blachford was sentenced to $85,000 in restitution, 2 years of probation, and a $25 assessment to the Victim Assistance Fund. Blachford was additionally ordered to forfeit the rifle he used in the offense and is prohibited from hunting, fishing, or trapping anywhere in the United States for two years.

According to U.S. Attorney Meghan Dilges the $85,000 in restitution will be made to the International Crane Foundation.

The following Reward was posted by Whooping CranrConservation Association in April 2012:

Whooping Crane Shot – $10,000 Reward

by Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association will pay a reward not to exceed $10,000 to anyone who provides information which leads to the conviction of any individuals responsible for the killing of a whooping crane which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012 along 354th Avenue, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, S.D. The purpose of the reward is to encourage the public to share information they might have about criminal activities involving whooping cranes. Federal, State, Provincial, and other public law enforcement personnel, and criminal accomplices who turn “states” evidence to avoid prosecution, shall not be eligible for this reward. If more than one informant is key to solving a specific case, the reward will be equally divided between the informants.                                                                                             Whooping crane single  Killed -Why

A reward has also been offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the shooting of the whooping crane. Law enforcement officers from the Service and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are investigating the shooting, which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012. The migrating adult whooping crane was traveling with two additional whooping cranes before being shot with a high-power rifle as it was standing in a corn field.

Anyone with information should call either the 24-hour “Turn in a Poacher Hotline” at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 605-224-9045 to report any information which will aid officers in the apprehension of the shooter. Callers can remain anonymous.

Eleven whooping cranes of the experimental Eastern Migratory  population and non-migratory Louisiana population have been shot in the last two years.  The Alabama case of January, a year ago, is still active. The Louisiana shootings have been solved by State Law Enforcement personnel and a reward will not be involved. One case is still active in Indiana.

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association will continue to provide rewards for killing of whooping cranes in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock.