By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a press release announcing that Alexander D. Alvarez from Atmore, AL pled guilty in federal court yesterday of illegal possession and selling of feathers from anhingas and other federally protected migratory birds. The birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
According to the joint statement by the FWS, the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama, Alvarez was charged by criminal information on Feb. 1, 2012, with one felony Lacey Act violation, one felony MBTA violation and one misdemeanor MBTA violation. The Lacey Act charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The felony MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The misdemeanor MBTA charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of $15,000. Sentencing is scheduled for May 22, 2012.
The MBTA directs the Secretary of the Interior to maintain a list of migratory birds which are protected by the federal government. It is a federal crime to kill, sell, barter, transport, or even possess a bird that is on the list without a permit from US FWS. Enrolled members of certain federally-recognized American Indian tribes are allowed to “possess eagle and other migratory bird feathers and parts for religious and ceremonial purposes.” Selling the birds, bird feathers, or bird parts is strictly prohibited by federal law. Alvarez is not ‘an enrolled member of a federally-recognized American Indian tribe.”
In the press release Ignacia S. Morena, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice was quoted: “Mr. Alvarez sought to profit from selling protected bird feathers he had no legal right to possess.” “Federal law prohibits the sale of migratory birds, feathers or their parts for commercial gain. In enforcing these wildlife laws in partnership with tribal law enforcement, we share a duty to protect the nation’s scarce and precious wildlife resources. In protecting these resources for future generations, we also ensure the ability of federally recognized tribal members to possess eagle and migratory bird feathers for religious and ceremonial practices.”
Kenyen R. Brown, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama said, “Protecting our natural resources, particularly wildlife, from being exploited against the law for personal gain continues to be a significant function of the Department of Justice.” “Successful prosecutions of this nature help ensure that the next generation of Americans enjoy the same level of wildlife that we do today.”
According to the press release the court documents say, “Alvarez communicated via email with an individual in Louisiana and eventually exchanged two anhinga tails that Alvarez possessed for a crested caracara tail, a Harris’s hawk tail and $400, which the individual possessed. Alvarez later sent 14 sets of anhinga tail feathers to this individual and asked the individual to photograph and offer the tails for sale via email. Alvarez received payment from the Louisiana individual for the anhinga tail feathers that were sold. A federal search warrant was executed at Alvarez’s home on March 11, 2009, and feathers from several migratory bird species were seized.”
This case stemmed from a joint investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement together with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Anhinga is also known as the water turkey or snake-bird and is commonly found in southern swamps as well as much of South and Central America. The birds lack the waterproofing ability of a duck which allows the birds to swim underwater for very long periods of time and they are regularly seen swimming with just their necks above the surface. Anhingas eat fish and frogs. They are not an endangered species and are rated by the IUCN as a wildlife species with the lowest chance of ever becoming extinct.