Southeast Texan arrested in killings of 2 whooping cranes

A pair of whooping cranes walk through shallow marsh water looking for food Dec. 17, 2011, near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Fulton, Texas. Scientists are concerned a devastating drought could hurt the recovery of the 300 endangered whooping cranes that winter in Texas. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — An 18-year-old man from Southeast Texas was charged Thursday with illegally shooting and killing two whooping cranes, a species which federal officials list as critically endangered.

Federal game officials arrested Trey Joseph Frederick the same day at his rural home near Beaumont. Witnesses told state and federal game officials that Frederick shot the cranes Dec. 10 in a rural area about 18 miles west of Beaumont.

A U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman in Beaumont says Frederick is free on bond and had no attorney. Frederick has no listed telephone number and couldn’t be reached for comment.

If convicted of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act violation, he could be sentenced to up to six months in federal prison and fined up to $15,000.

The birds were killed in an area 115 miles west of Louisiana’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, where state and federal biologists have released more than 60 whooping cranes, hoping to create a self-sustaining flock. The two killed were a male and female nearly 2 years old — too young to have paired for life.

They and two other Louisiana cranes had been in Southeast Texas for more than eight months, Robert Iles, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said in a statement.

“While incredibly frustrating to lose two more birds we will not be discouraged in our efforts to try and recover this endangered species,” biologist Sara Zimorski, who leads the Louisiana whooping crane project, said in a statement issued Thursday.

The birds’ deaths bring the young, Louisiana-based flock down to 44 birds in the wild. Many of the deaths have been natural, but six had been shot to death before the December killings.

Those in the wild include 11 juveniles released Dec. 29 after weeks acclimating in a covered pen.

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