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Pelican chicks killed after farmer ‘snapped’

MINNEAPOLIS — Craig Staloch just snapped, his lawyer says.

Within the space of a few hours, the Minnesota farmer smashed thousands of American White pelican chicks and eggs — all of the offspring in one of the state’s largest colonies — even though a wildlife officer had told him the previous day that they were protected by federal law.

Staloch, a farmer from Faribault County who killed the birds in May, entered no plea in federal court last week to a criminal misdemeanor charge filed for what conservation officials say is one of the most extreme acts of wildlife destruction they’ve ever encountered.

“He flipped out,” said Staloch’s attorney, Jason Kohlmeyer.

The birds had damaged about seven acres of land he was renting on the shores of Minnesota Lake, Staloch said after the hearing. Over the past three years they’ve cost him $20,000 in expenses and lost revenue, he said. When he asked for help, state wildlife specialists suggested a fence to protect his crops, Kohlmeyer said.

“But that’s not effective,” he said. “The damn birds fly.”

The pelicans built nests in a wooded area on the southwest corner of the lake, on land that Staloch rented to grow corn and soybeans.

When DNR workers returned to the site, it was obvious that something was wrong, said Linda Wires, an expert on pelicans at the University of Minnesota. Normally, the enormous birds, with wingspans of 8 to 10 feet, fly off when disturbed. But the colony was eerily silent and empty, she said.

Then they began finding broken eggs. As they moved through the brush, they began finding smashed and dead chicks. They found a total of 1,458 nests and 2,400 eggs and chicks had been destroyed. Only one chick was still alive.

“It was a gruesome sight,” Wires said.

If convicted of the federal misdemeanor, Staloch could face a fine of as much as $15,000 and six months in jail.

Scripps Howard News Service

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