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Fri, May 04, 2012

Iowa Pilots In Hot Water For Harassing Birds

At Issue Is Interpretation Of Airborne Hunting Act

Two men from Des Moines, IA, have been charged with violating a federal law prohibiting the use of aircraft to harass animals. Paul Austin and Craig Martin made several low passes over Saylorville Lake on November 16, 2011 in their Fly Baby and Aeronca aircraft. The lake is locally known as a bird-watching area, with thousands of pelicans, ducks, geese and other species stopping by every fall during migration.

According to a story appearing in the Des Moines Register, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers natural resources specialist witnessed the two planes pass about 20 feet above the water disrupting thousands of white pelicans and other birds. After the birds had settled on another area of the lake the planes returned again, spooking the flock back into the air. The specialist took photographs and cited Austin and Martin for flying "in a careless, negligent or reckless manner" over the protected land.

The plot thickened in February when the two men were indicted on charges of violating the Airborne Hunting Act. Conviction could result in up to one year in jail; additionally prosecutors are looking to seize their aircraft. Even though the pilots weren't hunting, prosecutors say the law applies because its ban on harassment makes it a crime to "disturb, worry, molest, rally, concentrate, harry, chase, drive, herd or torment" animals with an aircraft. Trial is scheduled for May 30.

FMI: www.fws.gov

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