Two northern Wisconsin potato farmers have been charged with illegal possession of bald eagles stemming from an investigation into their alleged practice of using poison-laced bait piles to kill predators.
Alvin Sowinski, 65, and his son Paul Sowinski, 46, both of the town of Sugar Camp in Oneida County, face up to a year in prison and $100,000 fines each, according to information filed in federal court in Madison on Wednesday.
The Sowinskis have agreed to pay $100,000 in restitution as part of a plea agreement, and also can't hunt, fish or trap game for at least five years.
According to prosecutors, bait piles containing the pesticide Carbofuran were put around the Sowinski property with the intent to kill predators, including coyotes and gray wolves.
However, investigators found dozens of dead wildlife near the bait piles, and no evidence of wolves being poisoned.
During a search on May 12, 2010, at seven locations on the Sowinski property in Sugar Camp, investigators found one bald eagle, 21 crows and ravens, four coyotes, one hawk, two songbirds, one weasel and two small unidentified mammals.
Other animals found in an area not in the immediate vicinity of the bait piles included two bald eagles, a black bear, two ravens and a coyote.
"The criminal actions of these two defendants — poisoning the land, killing bald eagles and numerous other animals and birds — simply for their own selfish reasons, attack the very core of what this state stands for," said U.S. Atty. John Vaudreuil in a news release.
"This is a disturbing case involving the reckless poisoning of wild birds and animals," said Todd Schaller, chief warden of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "To place poisoned baits out into the environment, lethally threatening any and all wildlife in the area, is not only illegal, it is unconscionable and not something the citizens of this state will tolerate."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker scheduled guilty plea hearings on May 8 for both Alvin and Paul Sowinski.