Farmer charged in killing of eagle Birds of prey had been raiding his chickens; thought it was a hawk
BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
An Upper Leacock farmer fed up with birds of prey killing his free-range chickens has been charged with shooting an immature bald eagle.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission charged Paul A. Zook, 28, of the 100 block of Geist Road with two misdemeanors of the state Game and Wildlife Code.
One count is for killing an endangered or threatened species and one count is for unlawful taking and possession of protected birds.
Zook could face up to two years in jail and fines up to $5,000 if found guilty. In addition, a judge could require Zook to pay up to $5,000 to "replace" the eagle.
A preliminary hearing on the charges is scheduled Jan. 31 before District Judge Denise Commins of Leola.
Bald eagles are listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania and are protected. Their comeback has been a rousing success in the state and Lancaster County has one of the highest concentrations in the Commonwealth.
According to a criminal complaint filed by the Game Commission, Zook readily admitted to shooting the eagle, thinking it was a hawk that was preying on his chickens.
Zook told investigating officers that he had previously shot at least three red-tailed hawks, according to the complaint filed by Derek Daly, then a wildlife conservation officer covering Lancaster County.
Hawks also are a protected species in Pennsylvania, though they are not listed as threatened or endangered.
The case began Nov. 23 when two rabbit hunters called the Game Commission and said they had found a dead eagle in a hole in the ground near Geist Road and Hartman Station Road.
Two investigating wildlife conservation officers examined the eagle and found a bullet hole in its breast.
They drove it to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square for a necropsy. Results showed that a fatal small-caliber bullet had entered the raptor's spine and exited its breast.
The examination also turned up evidence that the bird had been shot in the knee previously.
Game Commission officers started checking surrounding farms. The third farm was Zook's.
Zook confirmed for officers that he had chickens outdoors and that he had problems with hawks killing them, according to the criminal complaint.
Daly "then asked him what he was doing about it and he said that he was shooting the hawks," the complaint said.
When a deputy wildlife conservation officer asked Zook when was the last time he shot one, Zook "said prior to killing the most recent hawk, he had shot at least three other red-tailed hawks."
In response to a question, Zook said the most recent bird he had shot seemed to be a different type of hawk, according to the complaint.
Daly said Zook then signed a statement admitting to shooting the eagle and took the officers to where he had shot and the location of the eagle when he shot it.
Officers seized Zook's .22 rifle and a box of ammunition as evidence.
From the edge of extinction, restoration of bald eagles here and across Pennsylvania has been celebrated by most people.
As recently as 1980, there were only three pairs of nesting eagles in Pennsylvania. In 2011, there were 217 nesting pairs.
The same week that Zook allegedly shot the eagle, a birdwatcher counted 40 bald eagles in trees near Strasburg.
Lancaster County, with the Susquehanna River for nesting sites and availability of food on farmland, has one of the highest concentrations in the state.
For the first time, there are rumblings that marauding by the national symbol is becoming a nuisance for some local Plain sect farmers.