Someone near the town of Standish in Northern California fortunately took the adage, “See something, say something,”to heart and called a poaching hotline when they saw Richard Parker shoot a hawk on his 80-acre property near the Nevada border.
Parker hadn’t killed only the one hawk. As a game warden walked up to Parker’s front door, he saw two dead hawks in a tree and seven others on the ground below it.
Parker hadn’t killed only those nine hawks. When more game wardens arrived with a search warrant, they made a gruesome discovery: more than 135 dead raptors. The birds, in various stages of decomposition alongside spent rifle casings, were piled on the ground beneath telephone poles and trees.
Most of the victims were red-tailed hawks. There was also at least one owl, at least one magpie songbird, and one uncommon migratory ferruginous hawk, the largest hawk in North America.
Two bobcats had also been shot to death and left to rot.
Inside Parker’s house, wardens found a stuffed mountain lion – it’s been illegal to hunt them in California since 1991 – and some non-game birds that are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Parker was charged with multiple misdemeanor wildlife charges, including taking birds of prey; taking protected non-game birds; taking other non-game birds; and possession of unlawfully taken wildlife. Other charges may be added as the investigation continues.
Each potential violation is a misdemeanor poaching crime at the state level, according to a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The greatest punishment Parker currently faces is a maximum of only six months in jail, fines of up to $5,000 for each raptor and a fine up to $10,000 for the mountain lion. However, he could also be facing additional penalties for potential federal crimes.
Although the CDFW called it “likely the largest raptor poaching case in known California history,” Parker is currently free on bail.
Why would someone kill all that wildlife and leave it to rot? Parker – who grinned in his mug shot, as you can see in the video below – isn’t talking. His property isn’t far from the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, a habitat that “supports a rich diversity and quantity of wildlife,” according to the CDFW.
Here’s a chilling thought: What if Parker intentionally chose his home’s location because it would provide him with so many potential victims?
Hawks and other raptors are essential to the ecosystem and protected under California law. The CDFW says that as the top bird predators in the food chain, raptors help control rodent and small mammal populations. Because they are especially vulnerable to drought, habitat loss, rodenticides and other environmental stressors, raptors are referred to as an indicator species, meaning they can signal changes in the biological condition of ecosystems.
“The local raptor population may take years to recover from these killings,” David Bess, CDFW deputy director and chief of the Law Enforcement Division, said in the press release.
Bess praised the anonymous witness who called Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP) to report Parker.
“We don’t have enough folks out in the field and we can’t be everywhere all the time. Without that, this would have continued on,” he told the Sacramento Bee. “We wouldn’t have known to look this fellow up and start watching him.”
If you happen to witness or have information about a poaching or polluting incident or a fish and wildlife violation in California, call CalTIP at 888-334-CALTIP (2258).
This article was first published by Care2.com on 20 Mar 2018.