Standish rancher Richard Parker, 68, pleaded not guilty Monday, Feb. 4 in Lassen County Superior Court to 88 misdemeanor counts regarding alleged bird and animal poaching. In 2018, one wildlife officer said the case could be the largest raptor poaching case in California history.
Dennis L. Beck, Jr., a deputy attorney general from Sacramento, will prosecute the case. Susanville defense attorney Eugene Chittock represents Parker.
A trial setting conference has been scheduled for 1 p.m. March 14 in case number CF036680.
Last week, the court released Parker on his own recognizance through a standard release agreement. He agreed to appear at all times and places as ordered by the court; that he will not change his residence without permission of the court; that if he failed to appear and was arrested outside the state of California he would waive extradition; and that he will abide by all terms and conditions imposed by the court or magistrate.
In addition, Parker agreed to obey all laws, stay in contact with his counsel and relinquish his firearms within 24 hours.
According to a statement announcing Parker’s arrest, “Each potential violation is a misdemeanor poaching crime at the state level, with maximum penalties of six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine per each raptor. An unlawfully taken mountain lion could result in up to a $10,000 penalty. Each potential federal crime could result in additional penalties.”
“Poaching crimes of this egregious nature against raptors are unprecedented in California,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess in 2018. “The local raptor population may take years to recover from these killings.”
At the time of Parker’s arrest, CDFW Captain Patrick Foy said fish and wildlife officers have jurisdiction to enforce both federal and state fish and wildlife laws, and he expects Parker will first face state charges in Lassen County Superior Court.
“Typically we start at the state level,” Foy said, “and as the investigation continues they’ll decide if there are any elements of federal level crimes, and if that’s the case, that will be included as part of the investigation, and they’ll take the appropriate action … That will be part of the puzzle as well … It’s interesting to see that many (killed raptors) in such a small area. It also helped to have the (CDFW) dogs there, too. They can help find them. They’re pretty good at finding the pieces and parts that we would overlook that are in some level of decay or have fallen into an area that’s difficult to sort through.”
According to a previous statement from CDFW, the investigation began after wildlife officers received an anonymous tip from a resident who reportedly saw a man killing a hawk near the town of Standish.
Investigators suspect the raptors were shot with a rifle at a distance and their bodies were left where they fell as many carcasses were found near telephone poles and fence posts.
Foy said he had no idea why someone would kill so many raptors.
“That’s certainly the question that’s been asked most often,” Foy said in 2018, “and we don’t really have a solid answer. It’s something we’ll be looking for during the rest of this investigation … The average person wants to see more raptors and fewer rats. This is going to be quite the opposite.”
During a search of Parker’s 80-acre ranch near Standish in 2018, investigators found 126 dead raptors, all in various states of decay. Most of the birds were red-tailed hawks, but at least one dead owl was found, as well as an uncommon migratory ferruginous hawk. Officers also located two dead bobcats, one taxidermied mountain lion and other non-game birds, all suspected to be unlawfully taken.
Standish is located near Honey Lake and the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, with habitat that supports a rich diversity and quantity of wildlife. The sheer number of birds poached on the 80-acre property will undoubtedly affect the raptor population in the immediate area, according to investigators.
Parker was arrested, booked and released at the Lassen County Jail March 12, 2018 on multiple charges including take of birds of prey, take of migratory non-game birds as designated by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, take of other non-game birds and possession of wildlife unlawfully taken.
After Parker’s arrest, Foy called this a “significant case,” and he said he and other investigators have never seen a raptor poaching case involving this many birds of prey.
In March 2018, Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon said after Parker’s arrest, CDFW officers booked him at the Lassen County Detention Center on a fish and game violation and issued him a citation. He did not have to post bail to be released.