How to Get Away with Killing Endangered Species: Play Dumb

Environmental groups are taking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to court over a policy that literally allows individuals to get away with murder when it comes to killing endangered species.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 to protect species that are in danger of disappearing. While civil penalties are less, criminal violations of the ESA can result in fines of up to $50,000, jail time or both. Unfortunately there’s a significant loophole, known as the McKittrick policy, that allows hunters to get away with killing imperiled wildlife by claiming they didn’t know the animals they killed were endangered.

The policy came into play after Chad McKittrick shot and killed one of the first restored wolves in the Northern Rockies in 1995 and argued that he was innocent because he thought it was a wild dog. He was convicted of poaching, given a six-month sentence and lost a subsequent appeal, but the policy was put in place following the incident in 1998.

Under this policy, prosecutors must prove that the individual in question knew what, or whom, they were killing. The two groups suing, WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, contend that this policy has led to a systemic failure to prosecute violators.

If all anyone has to do is claim they thought a wolf was a coyote, or a grizzly was a black bear, among other cases of “mistaken identity,” there’s not much anyone can do to prove otherwise …or very much point to having serious consequences for violating the ESA.

“The DOJ has lost its moral compass and abdicated its duties to protect America’s greatest national treasures: Mexican wolves, grizzly bears, and California condors,” said Wendy Keefover, Director, Carnivore Protection Program for WildEarth Guardians. “The policy means that people can commit the most well-planned assassinations of America’s most endangered animals and then literally get away with murder.”

The policy also raised concern from wildlife managers. In a 2000 memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an official stated that, “As soon as word about this policy gets around the west the ability for the average person to distinguish a grizzly bear from a black bear or a wolf from a coyote will decline sharply. Under this policy a hen mallard is afforded more protection than any of the animals listed as endangered.”

For Mexican gray wolves, this policy has been a complete disaster with illegal shooting being the highest cause of death for this species. Since it has gone into effect, 48 Mexican gray wolves have been illegally killed, but according to WildEarth Guardians, only two cases have resulted in federal prosecution. As of now, there are estimated to be 75 in New Mexico and Arizona, with just three breeding pairs.

The groups now hope to get this policy invalidated.

 

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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96 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Sheri D.
Sheri D.2 years ago

sad. ban hunting.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.2 years ago

Well said Kathleen S - and sadly too true.

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider2 years ago

Ignorance is not an excuse! Abolish the mckittrick policy!

Kathleen S.
Kathleen S.2 years ago

Give a gun to a hunter and they don't care what they kill. They go out to get something. They don't care if it suffers. They brag no matter what. So where is our government? Who is running the Department of Justice? Do they have guns and hunt? More then likely. The wrong people are guarding the 'hen house'.

Kathleen S.
Kathleen S.2 years ago

Give a gun to a hunter and they don't care what they kill. They go out to get something. They don't care if it suffers. They brag no matter what. So where is our government? Who is running the Department of Justice? Do they have guns and hunt? More then likely. The wrong people are guarding the 'hen house'.

David V.
David V.2 years ago

Most people got this one right on - Ignorance is not an excuse & if you are going to hunt you should be able to identify every endangered species.
The real solution - BAN HUNTING completely.

MILES FOSTER
Miles F.2 years ago

Well, how absurd. It is surely a fundamental principle of jurisprudence that ignorance of the law is no excuse. In the case of the ESA it should be the hunter's responsibility to know which species are protected and be able to identify them. The suggestion that a license should be dependent on the applicant's ability to do so strikes me as eminently sensible and should be introduced forthwith. Otherwise, the ESA is just a joke and unscrupulous hunters have the last laugh.

E. Talamante
E. Talamante2 years ago

I see an easy fix to this. Prior o receiving a hunting license, hunters would have to take an 8-40 hour Endangered Species Recognition class, ensuring that they are aware of what they are shooting at. The class would highlight the charges that could be brought against the hunter if they shoot an endangered species.

Also, ramp up the charges for poaching and killing endangered species. Whether or not you know it's endangered, you should have heavier charges if you kill an endangered species.

I do not think all poachers should face higher charges, however. I know some friends who poach out of season to feed their families, but there is a difference between deer and a Mexican Grey Wolf, or a Grizzly bear.

Shanti S.
S S.2 years ago

Thank you.