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Texan Sentenced for Killing Whooping Cranes

BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) — A Texan who shot two whooping cranes can't hunt or fish anywhere in the United States or own a gun for five years, a federal magistrate judge ruled Tuesday, sentencing him to probation for killing the endangered birds.

Trey Joseph Frederick, 19, of Beaumont, pleaded guilty in May to one violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston said in a statement.

Declared endangered by the federal government in 1967, whooping cranes grow to 5 feet tall with an 8-foot wingspan and can live up to 24 years in the wild. They forage in marshes and fields for fish, crabs, lizards, berries and aquatic plants.

A Texas game warden got two calls reporting two whooping cranes had been shot in Jefferson County on Jan. 11, according to an affidavit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Jim Stinebaugh.

The investigation led to Frederick, who was seen in the area with a hunting rifle and told witnesses he was hunting geese, the Jan. 14 affidavit states.

Frederick confessed to Stinebaugh that he killed the whooping cranes, the affidavit states.

In addition to probation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn also ordered Frederick to pay a total of $25,815 in restitution in two equal payments to the International Crane Foundation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and to complete 200 hours of community service.

"Protecting our environment and wildlife is vital to making sure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the true beauty and excitement of nature," Featherston said.

The world's only wild flock of around 300 whooping cranes winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Environmentalists have fought protect them.

The Aransas Project sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2010, claiming that the commission's failure to properly manage water diversion in the San Antonio and Guadalupe River systems caused the deaths of 23 cranes.

The environmental group said the licensed withdrawals of water from the rivers reduced freshwater flows to the wildlife refuge and increased its salinity, causing a decline in the number of blue crabs and wolfberry plants, the two primary food sources for whooping cranes.

The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit ruled in 2014 that Texas was not liable for the whooping crane deaths.

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