Charges laid in eagle-poaching case
Bird parts used in native ceremonies or for artistic purposes
Sunday, April 30, 2006
CREDIT: Jon Murray, The Province
Conservation Officer Terry Myroniuk holds a native 'bustle' made from eagle feathers. On the table are other ornaments along with golden and bald eagles and a trumpeter swan. So far, 11 people have been charged in the poaching case.
Eleven men have been charged in a high-profile eagle-parts trafficking case triggered more than a year ago when 48 mutilated eagle carcasses were discovered in North Vancouver and Squamish.
The men, who are from the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, have been charged with unlawful possession of dead wildlife, trafficking dead wildlife, hunting wildlife during the closed season and unlawful export of wildlife.
Investigators are also looking into the arrest of two Ontario men with illegal eagle parts who travelled to Washington from B.C. on the Easter long weekend.
Lance Sundquist, regional manager of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, said more charges are expected.
The 15-month investigation by the province's Conservation Officer Service also led to the execution of four search warrants on Friday. Thousands of dollars worth of eagle parts used for native ceremonial or artistic purposes were recovered.
The items included numerous eagle parts which are sold on the black market for anywhere from $100 to $1,500 per part.
A dancing stick with an eagle head, used in powwows, can sell for more than $1,000; golden eagle wings can sell for up to $500. A trumpeter swan was also recovered, valued at upwards of $1,000.
The items were designated for other parts of Canada and the U.S., Sundquist said.
For the past several years, an estimated 1,000 bald eagles have been killed annually for the illegal market.
While illegal poaching of bald eagles has been going on in B.C. for years, charges are often difficult due to the secrecy surrounding trafficking rings, said Sundquist.
The last time eagle poaching and trafficking charges were brought before a B.C. court was in 1999.
Leonard George, an elder with the Tseil-Waututh Nation (also known as the Burrard band) where 40 carcasses were found, said it was heartbreaking to see birds treated in such a way.
"It breaks your heart because the spirit of it is the same as your grandchildren, as your children, the thing that you hold and embrace," said George. "There's no reason that in our society we should be abusing it."
George said he knows several of the men charged and had hoped that the matter could have been dealt with internally between band members. But when no one came forward after a public appeal, George said those individuals chose to have the matter dealt with through the criminal court system.
George said he would like to see the recovered eagle parts "cleansed" to "give back the integrity of the animal, to be brought back to life in a real traditional way."
According to B.C.'s Wildlife Act, no one can possess a dead eagle or eagle parts unless authorized by officials. The penalty for poaching is a fine up to $50,000 or six months in jail; the penalty for trafficking is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or jail for a year.
Those who want eagle parts legally must find them discarded naturally or can apply to wildlife officials, who distribute birds that have died from natural causes.
Sundquist wouldn't comment on how the men charged are connected and said no one has been singled out as ringleader.
The investigation was prompted after the first discovery on Feb. 2, 2005. Twenty-six carcasses were found in North Vancouver on the Tseil-Waututh Nation land.
Remains of 14 eagles were found two weeks later near Cates Park in North Vancouver and at least eight more dead bald eagles were found in early March 2005 on Squamish First Nation land.
Charged Friday are:
- James Carl Joseph of Vancouver
- Gary Abbott of Chilliwack
- Ralph Leon of Chehalis
- Reynold Collins of Chilliwack
- David Essary Bill of Sidney
- Wesley Francis of Chehalis
- Thomas Lawrence Shaw of Chehalis
- Francis James of Vancouver
- William Michael Visser of Langley
- Jerome Richard Seymour of Duncan
- William Arthur Seymour of Brentwood Bay
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