Four Convicted in Trumpeter Swan Shooting Case

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LUBBOCK, Texas — When Game Wardens Mark Collins and Jay Oyler drove to 10 Texas cities in eight days and interviewed 51 people, driving a total of 2,802 miles, they didn’t think about the fact that poaching cases like this one are rarely solved.

"You’ve got a situation where four people show up in the middle of nowhere and shoot and then run off. It was very difficult. When I showed up, we had five dead and wounded trumpeter swans laying there and I am scratching my head," Collins said.

But he and fellow warden Oyler solved the case and four people have since pleaded guilty to 20 charges and will pay a total of $17,000 in fines, court costs and veterinary bills.

The swans were found on Dec. 13 at a wastewater treatment pond in the City of Lockney east of Plainview. Evidence indicated the birds had been shot with a shotgun. After the shooting, the three that were still alive at the scene were cared for at the South Plains Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Lubbock.

In all, three of the five birds have died and the other two have been sent back to a captive breeding program in Iowa, from which they originally were released, according to bands on their legs. The program there added $1,000 to the ’Operation Game Thief’ (Texas’ crimestoppers program) reward money of $1,000 that had been offered for information from the public that would help solve the case.

But it was solved by good old-fashioned police work this time.

During interviews, Collins talked to Harry G. Crawford, 53; James Cade Crawford, 25; Cristy Leann Crawford, 23; all from Paris, Texas and Joshua P. Lambert, 25, from Lockney.

"Eventually, I heard every kind of excuse or denial of why they did it. One said he thought they were someone’s pet ducks, which is a really a stretch to mix up these swans with ducks. But playing along anyway, I said, ’so you’d go around shooting people’s pets?’ He didn’t like that logic too much."

They have each pleaded guilty to five counts of hunting a state-protected non-game migratory waterfowl (trumpeter swan), Class C misdemeanors, and were ordered to pay the maximum in fines — ($17,000).

"Folks like these give the majority of law-abiding hunters a bad rap," Collins said. "It’s hunting license dollars that pay our salaries, so we’re proud to represent the hunter conservationists when we go after the lawbreakers."