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NC- Wildlife officers say prosecution of five for illegal hunting a victory for struggling duck species

Wildlife officers say prosecution of five for illegal hunting a victory for struggling duck species

March 27, 2008 - 3:47PM
Charlie Hall
Sun Journal

The recent prosecution of five men for illegal baiting and hunting in Pamlico County is a victory for a species of duck whose numbers are declining, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent.

The bird is scaup, which was the target of three hunters and two guides who used more than 20 tons of corn to bait them along Porpoise Creek.

"The significance of this is that these lesser scaup are at a critical period of population decline," said Washington-based wildlife agent Jack Baker. "They've had three consecutive years of all-time historical low populations."

James E. Johnson Jr., 71, of Virginia Beach was identified as the property owner and one of the hunters. The two other hunters - Able Brand, 70, of Supply and 69-year-old John Ragland of Connecticut -were guests at Johnson's Pamlico County hunting retreat.

Baker said two guides retrieved the killed birds so that the hunters did not have them in their possession to count against their bag limit.

The guides, identified as employees of Johnson, were a Grantsboro man, Troy Godwin, 37, and Raymond Rhoden, 58, of Hobucken.

The federal investigation spanned several months, culminating with arrests on Jan. 14, 2007.

Baker said the magnitude of the bait also made the case significant.

"They were actually feeding two areas, probably two or three times a week, putting out four or five hundred pounds in each of these areas," Baker said. "We commonly encounter baiting situations, not on this scale. But it (baiting) is not unheard of."

When agents moved in for the arrests, there were six illegal birds recovered, in the possession of guides Godwin and Rhoden.

"We interrupted the hunt. We felt certain they were going to continue on," Baker said. "We had an officer watching the hunt and when it got to a certain point, we're not going to let them slaughter hundreds of birds."

The men were sentenced in U.S. District Court.

Johnson was fined $7,500 and was placed on probation with revocation of his hunting and firearms possession rights for a year.

Ragland and Brand were invited guests of Johnson and the court did not take away their hunting privileges. They were fined $1,000 each.

Rhoden and Godwin received $500 fines, and a year of supervised probation, which includes a provision that they cannot hunt or possess firearms.

Baker said the illegal killing added to the ducks' struggle for survival as a species.

"We feel this artificial baiting - drawing these birds into areas where they would not be - and subjecting them to additional mortality is one of the reasons driving this population down to critical levels," Baker said.

Baker said there is a distinction between feeding and baiting migratory waterfowl.

"The law prohibits putting grain out to attract birds to your hunting area," he said. "There is no problem with merely feeding the birds. But if you are going to hunt them and shoot them, you can't attract them artificially to this area.

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