On July 10 at about 6 p.m., two Crescent Valley youth, Kennedy Cady and Damien Smith, said they were outside on Damien’s grandfather’s property on 2nd Street when they saw a Sheriff’s Department patrol car drive through the gate to the airport property and watched as Officer Mike Harder parked his patrol car on the gravel road, got out, pulled his weapon and fired at the ground.
Hearing gun shots, the boys saw dust and black feathers fly into the air. Damien, Kennedy, Raj from the General Store, Emma Armstrong, Sherry and Ron Smith, in fact, all saw the officer shooting. Ron Smith thought he was shooting at a snake. The Smiths and friends had been hand-feeding three orphaned two-month old baby ravens whom they’d named Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Sherry Smith’s phone rang and it was Eureka County Dispatch. “What’s up?” she asked.
The woman inquired as to whether she had any ravens “this year.”
Smith said, “Yeah. We’ve got three.”
Dispatch then asked her if she could see the birds.
Smith looked around and couldn’t; went back in the shop and asked daughter Annine to call for them.
Dispatch asked Smith if the officer was there with her.
Smith said, “No, he’s over in the airport shooting at something and it better not be the birds or I’m going to be very upset.” Dispatch put Smith on hold and tried to get Officer Harder on the phone.
An officer came on the phone and told Smith the police had permission to shoot the birds as they were attacking people. Smith hung up to deal with distraught children.
Ron and Sherry Smith jumped in their truck and drove to the airport, parking at a distance from the officer whose gun remained drawn. Apparently, Harder fired a full clip of 15 rounds into the three birds. No one at any time saw the birds fly at the officer.
Smith said to the officer, “Congratulations, you just shot three baby birds.”
Smith said the officer responded by stating the birds flew right at him.
Smith told the officer, “Yeah, probably to ask for some affection or a treat. They wanted food.”
Smith asked why they were shot in front of children and pointed out that the birds could have been retrieved and dealt with somewhere else. The officer quoted the Migratory Bird Act and told Smith that feeding, handling and caring for or trying to help birds in any way is against the law and again was told if he had no more, the Sheriff’s Department would not prosecute. At that point, Smith hung up.
The officer apparently responded to a call from a new neighbor who lived to the east of the Smiths. The woman had communicated to dispatch she feared leaving her house.
Ron Smith and Robert Rugne, both with experience caring for orphaned ravens, acknowledge if you didn’t know the birds you might feel threatened; but Smith noted if a raven is attacking it will come from above.
Sheriff Keith Logan said he was told by the officer the ravens had attacked him, in variance with what witnesses reported, and promised an investigation. Ron Smith and Sheriff Logan, upon speaking days later, agreed everyone needs education and such situations need to be handled differently.
As Kristina Rozan of Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center related, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918 to combat over-hunting and poaching that supplied the enormous demand for feathers to adorn women’s hats. State-level hunting laws were not working, and bird populations were being decimated. At first, the act was based on a single, 1916 treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) to protect migratory birds. Later, similar treaties were signed with Japan, Russia, and Mexico, and protection for the birds covered in these treaties was added to the MBTA.”
Wild ravens under the Migratory Bird Act are actually only to be cared for by wildlife rehabilitators licensed by the State and or Federal Government. As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service website relates, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”
Further, the USFWS explains their agency “has statutory authority and responsibility for enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act of 1978 and the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956. The MBTA implements Conventions between the United States and four countries (Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia) for the protection of migratory birds.”
The Smiths, now following the process to become licensed rehabilitators, maintain they did not possess the birds, rather Ron Smith joked the free-roaming birds “possessed” them. Mike Podborny, NDOW Wildlife Biologist for Eureka County, told the Sentinel he was consulted after the fact by the Sheriff’s Department and at the time of the shooting was out of state.
Podborny said his agency has no intention of prosecuting the officer for killing the birds and Sheriff Logan likewise related he would seek no prosecution of the Smiths for caring for the slain ravens without a State or Federal Permit.
However, Amedee Brickey of the Fish & Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Division out of Sacramento related while the Smiths’ feeding of the birds did not concern the FWS, Harder’s shooting of them does and she suggested a complaint be filed with the FWS law enforcement.
As Andrew Ogden told the Sentinel, “Certain species of ravens are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and intentionally harming them may be a violation of its provision prohibiting ‘take’ of protected species. Specifically, Section 703 states, ‘Unless and except as permitted by regulations …, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or attempt to take, capture, or kill . . . any migratory bird . . .’ Further, Section 707(a) provides that any act violating the provisions of the MBTA (including the take prohibition) is strictly liable for his/her actions, and does not have to act with knowledge or intent. Such a violation would be a criminal (not civil) misdemeanor violation under the MBTA. The US Fish and Wildlife Service establishes what migratory birds in the United States are protected by the MBTA by regulation, which includes both the Common raven (Corvus corax) and the Chihuahuan raven (Corvus cryptoleucus). 50 CFR §10.13.’”
By regulation the FWS provides for permits to take protected species under certain circumstances, such as for scientific collection. Permits are available to “depredation control” to take birds to prevent damage to personal property, agricultural interests, and natural resources, and for health and human safety, (50 C.F.R. § 21.41), and “depredation orders” allowing take without a permit of certain species under specific conditions. At this time there are no depredation orders allowing the taking of ravens. (see generally 50 CFR §§21.43-21.54).
Ogden said, “Although state laws usually permit a police officer in the line of duty to kill animals who are threatening or attacking the officer or another person, I am not aware of any state law which would sanction the killing of birds (or animals) that pose no such threat. In that case animal cruelty laws would come into play.”
To ensure such a situation does not occur again, research is under way to assist the Smiths and any other interested citizens to obtain permitted rehabilitator status. The State Rehabilitator licensing application is being completed by the Smiths. The FWS is assisting in setting the date to participate in a public forum on caring for wildlife and creating a wildlife sanctuary in Crescent Valley with participation expected as well by NDOW, the Sheriff’s Office, and J.J. Goicoechea, who has volunteered to be the veterinarian of record for the Smith’s permit application.