Trapper charged in deaths of lynx, gray jay

Posted July 02, 2010, at 9:55 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Pennsylvania man is being charged with violating the Endangered Species Act for allegedly killing two federally protected animals in northern Maine in late 2008.

A complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor charges that William McCoy of Fayetteville, Pa., caught a Canada lynx in one of his traps set in the Aroostook County town of Staceyville and then attempted to discard the lynx’s body.

McCoy, 40, also is charged with killing a gray jay — a protected migratory bird — in another trap that had been illegally set, according to court records.

Both crimes are considered Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in prison. Killing a Canada lynx, which is designated as a threatened species, also carries a fine of up to $25,000 while killing a migratory bird carries a fine of up to $15,000.

A temporary resident of Maine during trapping season, McCoy apparently had been warned earlier in the 2008 trapping season that his traps settings did not comply with Maine rules intended to deter the accidental capture of lynx, bald eagles and other protected species.

He was given a warning at the time but less than 10 days later wardens confiscated 17 of McCoy’s traps that again had been illegally set, according to the complaint filed by Robert Rothe, a special agent working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Maine.

McCoy pleaded not guilty to the charges on Dec. 3, 2008. But a day later, wardens checking on McCoy’s traps discovered boot tracks in the snow leading from a tree where the man had set traps before to the dead lynx, discarded about 50 yards away. The tree where the trap had been set had claw marks, fur and other signs that the lynx had been caught and died.

During a subsequent interview with wardens and Rothe, McCoy reportedly confessed to finding the dead lynx in his trap and attempting to hide its carcass in a panic. He also allegedly admitted to burning the boots he had been wearing at the time after learning that investigators were spotted at the site.

The death of the lynx in December 2008 as well as other deaths that season became part of a legal battle between two groups — the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and the Animal Welfare Institute — and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The two organizations had charged that DIF&W was violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing trapping activities that occasionally injured or killed lynx. A federal judge later rejected the groups’ claims that the Maine’s trapping policies could cause irreparable harm to the state’s lynx population.

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