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Rancher gets probation in eagle deaths

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A Utah sheep rancher who put out a poisoned deer carcass that killed four bald eagles was sentenced to six months' probation under a plea deal Monday in federal court.

Kerry Pace, 48, of Coalville, admitted to putting out the pesticide-laced deer carcass last year in hopes of killing coyotes that were attacking his sheep. Instead, investigators found the carcasses of the eagles, two black-billed magpies and two skunks.

Pace pleaded guilty to illegal possession of the eagles, which are listed on the endangered species list and protected under federal law. In addition to the probation, he was fined $1,000.

In return for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped two other charges: possession of black-billed magpies, a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Act, and knowingly misusing a pesticide. If convicted as originally charged, Pace could have gotten up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

"The message is very clear," U.S. Attorney Paul Warner said of the decision. "It is critical that those who use pesticides or other chemicals . . . use them only as authorized."

Agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Conservation officer spotted a suspected poisoning site in Hoytsville, near Pace's property, during an aerial survey on March 20, 1999, according to court papers.

An analysis of the dead animals showed the bald eagles and magpies died from eating the mule deer meat, which was contaminated with the pesticide aldicarb, commonly called Temik. The substance is federally restricted to underground use on agricultural crops such as soybeans, sweet potatoes and sugar beets.

During an interview one month later, Pace told agents he knew nothing of the dead eagles, but said he did have problems with coyotes. He also told investigators, "They told me that stuff wouldn't kill birds," according to the court papers.

Pace's son, Colby, admitted to investigators that he and his father had put out the poison to kill coyotes even though they knew it might kill eagles. He said also that the pair had used aldicarb to lace four deer carcasses and hamburger meat the previous winter to try to protect their sheep.