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Birdbrains Busted for Blasting Bird Brains June 4, 2007

Posted by tkcollier in Enviroment, In The News, News.
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Songbird shooting results in felony

STUART — Wildlife officers were having an early-evening squad meeting in the Allapattah Flats area in western Martin County in March when they heard the sound of gunfire from the southwest.

Several officers and supervisors got into their trucks and followed the sound, which seemed to come from a shotgun and a small-caliber rifle. They got to an area about 3 miles south of State Road 714 near a sod farm that also includes property owned by the South Florida Water Management District. That’s when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Ray Woolrich realized shotgun pellets were hitting his truck.

A few minutes later, officers confronted three men who first said they were target shooting and later admitted they were shooting at birds.

Two dead songbirds were found in the area, and parts of a third were recovered, prompting charges of “taking of non-game migratory birds” and “willful and wanton waste of wildlife” against all three.

Matthew Bustin, 19, of Palm City was one of them. He accepted his misdemeanor citations and was ready to plead no contest, but on May 18 prosecutors filed a felony charge of armed trespass against him and he had to surrender at the Martin County jail to face the new, more serious case.

“I already paid on the birds,” Bustin said Friday. “Now they want me to do weekends in the jail.”

From the date of the initial citation, officers recommended that the trespass charge be pursued, but prosecutor Linda Bach said one of the things that persuaded her to file was the fact that Bustin had just finished a probationary sentence for killing a deer out of season in January. Court records show his probation was officially terminated March 6 and the bird shootings happened March 11.

Wildlife officials applauded the decision.

“It was just an absolute disregard for wildlife,” wildlife commission spokeswoman Dani Moschella said. “He was lucky the first time with the deer case.”

Wildlife commission Capt. David Sterman, who did not participate in Bustin’s case, said he has seen a number of repeat offenders in his 35 years with the agency.

“The question is: Do you want to have a quality outdoor experience? Do you want to have fish and wildlife to enjoy in the future?” Sterman said. “If you just want to live for the moment, that’s your choice, but the majority of Floridians have a very serious concern about environmental issues.”

Bustin said Friday that he knows what he did was wrong and that he will likely make a plea deal in the case.

“It’s taught me a lot,” he said, adding, “I’m fixing to move out of Martin County.”

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