A Missouri father and son were sentenced in federal court today for illegally destroying two bald eagle nests on their farm property in Ray County, MO.
"It is a tragic loss," said James Persson, special agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "especially the long-established, very large nest."
The two nests sat in trees on farm property owned by Ronald L. Gibson, 70, and Todd A. Gibson, 49, both of Norborne, MO.
Persson said the larger nest had been on the property for at least a decade and had become quite a draw for people who would come to the intersection of J Highway and Missouri River Road every spring to watch the mating pair and their offspring. Missouri Conservation Agent Tammy Pierson described the nest as bigger than the bed of a pick-up truck.
"They are often ten feet around," said Pierson. "This was the largest nest I had ever seen."
Her federal counterpart agreed.
"The loss of these birds does have an exponential factor," Persson said, "and I can't replace it."
According to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Ronald and Todd Gibson pleaded guilty to the felony charges and admitted that they contracted with Joe Gardner Logging and Sawmill Company, owned by Teddy J. Gardner, 65, of Breckenridge, MO, to remove timber from their farm land in March 2010. That timber included a large cottonwood tree that contained a bald eagle nest.
Court records stated that Ronald Gibson admitted that he knew the bald eagle nest was in the tree when it was cut down and that Michael G. Gardner, 54, of Pattonsburg, MO, an employee of Teddy Gardner, operated the saw that cut down the cottonwood tree containing the bald eagle nest. Michael and Teddy Gardner have pleaded guilty to destroying a bald eagle nest and await sentencing next week.
Todd Gibson admitted to the court that he asked the Gardners to return to the farm property in April 2010 to complete the logging so the property could be farmed. At that time, Todd Gibson directed them to cut down another tree that contained a bald eagle nest.
Ronald Gibson told KCTV5 that he never meant to have those two trees torn down, but due to a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, the loggers took them along with the rest.
"I hired the logger and it was on my land," Ronald Gibson said, "so I have to take responsibility. I should know better than to do business on a hand shake instead of in writing."
Ronald and Todd Gibson were each sentenced to two years of probation. The court also ordered each of the men to pay a $5,000 fine and serve 100 hours of community service with the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, MO.
Persson said that particular area was attractive to the pair of Bald Eagles that had been nesting there for decades. He said two other nests had been destroyed over the years due to weather conditions, but instead of relocating, the pair would gather sticks and re-build a stone's throw away.
"Each year, they had two young," said Persson of the recurring pair, "which is very high production."
He said agents have no way of knowing whether that pair and their offspring have re-located nearby.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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