Nearly a year after his arrest, the Lassen County man accused of killing dozens of birds of prey in one of California’s largest raptor poaching cases has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Richard Earl Parker, 68, entered his plea Feb. 4 at his arraignment in Lassen County Superior Court in Susanville. He faces 86 misdemeanor counts: one for each of the hawks, owls and other birds state game wardens have accused him of shooting on his property.
He faces two additional counts, one for allegedly killing or possessing bobcat carcasses without proper hunting permits and one for illegally possessing a mountain lion carcass.
Parker’s Susanville attorney, Eugene Chittock, didn’t return a message left at his office this week.
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Wardens with the Department of Fish and Wildlife said an anonymous tip to the state’s poaching tip line brought them in March to Parker’s home in the Lassen County town of Standish near the border with Nevada.
The tipster said Parker had shot a hawk with a rifle, wardens said. But when they arrived on March 11, wardens allege they found dead hawks, owls and other birds lying in piles around the base of telephone poles and trees.
By the time their search was concluded, they found 126 dead birds of prey in varying stages of decay, wardens said last year after serving a search warrant at Parker’s home.
Most were red-tailed hawks, though at least one owl and a ferruginous hawk rarely seen in Northern California were recovered, wardens said.
Investigators said they also found two dead bobcats that had been shot and left to rot on Parker’s property. Inside his home, investigators allegedly discovered a stuffed mountain lion and several non-game birds, wardens said.
It has been illegal to kill mountain lions or to possess their parts since 1991, when Californians approved Proposition 117, which banned mountain lion hunting.
If convicted, Parker faces up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine per each count representing a dead raptor and $10,000 for the cougar.
The case is being prosecuted by the California Attorney General’s Office.
At the Feb. 4 hearing, Parker agreed to surrender his firearms, according to court records. Parker’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 4.
Despite its shocking bird body count, Parker’s case isn’t the largest in California history.
In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accused a group of Southern California men who bred specialized competitive birds known as “roller” pigeons of killing as many as 1,000 to 2,000 raptors every year. After an undercover investigation, the agency arrested seven men on suspicion of illegally trapping, shooting and poisoning Coopers hawks, red-tailed hawks and Peregrine falcons to protect their pigeons.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that last year’s poaching case was not the largest in California history.