The two men accused of stoning a great blue heron to death near the Jay Covered Bridge may pay tougher penalties if an investigation determines they should face federal charges.
The case in being investigated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, said Lee Schneckenberger, deputy resident agent in charge of the Amherst-based U.S. Fish and Wildlife regional enforcement office.
"Great blue herons are protected under federal law," Schneckenberger said.
This great blue heron had to be euthanized after two local men threw a large rock at it near the Jay Covered Bridge on Aug. 8.
(Photo — Lora Bushey)
They are listed as a migratory bird under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Schneckenberger said it's a criminal violation to kill, or "take," or attempt to kill a migratory bird.
If investigators determine that Ryan F. Slater, 22, of Wilmington, and Michael Martindale Jr., 28, of Jay, should face federal charges, they could face up to six months in jail and up to a $15,000 fine for the class B misdemeanor.
On Aug. 8, the two men allegedly threw a large stone at the heron, a popular bird often viewed by many in the Jay area, as a number of witnesses watched. The stoning injured the bird's right wing and leg so badly that it had to be euthanized after spending several days at Wendy and Steve Hall's Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington.
The case is being investigated out of U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Albany office.
"We're working on it concurrently with the New York state DEC," Schneckenberger said.
He estimated that about once a month investigators in New York state get a report of taking of a migratory bird.
The two men would be tried in the federal court system, probably out of Plattsburgh, Schneckenberger said.
He wasn't sure how long the investigation would take, saying it always depends on several different factors.
The Enterprise could not find a phone number listed for either Slater or Martindale, and it could not determine who will represent them in court. The two are due in Jay Town Court on the lesser state charges of wounding protected wildlife and taking a protected bird, charges that face up to about $500 in possible penalties.
Slater recently did prison time after being convicted of stealing several automated teller machines in August and September 2009 from businesses in Peru, AuSable and Elizabethtown.
Since the Enterprise first reported it, the case has become the subject of public outcry throughout the area and beyond, spurring several letters to the editor, a number of phone calls to WNBZ's Talk of the Town radio call-in show, and countless Facebook references. Many weighed in on what they believe should happen to Slater and Martindale as a result of the stoning.
Several Talk of the Town callers suggested that the two men should have stones thrown at them.
"Let the punishment fit the crime," one caller said. "They're 20-something years old. They know better by now."
Marge Zengel, who lives in Glen Head on Long Island, suggested in a letter to the editor that the men should volunteer at the Hall's refuge in order to learn about the animals there and gain an understanding of the power of their actions.
Saranac Laker Josh Clement, who does a web video series with his son called "Exploring the Adirondacks," said on Facebook that this behavior goes against everything he's been trying to teach his son through the series.
He said he'd like to video the two men apologizing for their actions and post it on the Web so the public can see.
"This foolish act, as sad as it is, could be used as an educational opportunity to thwart others from committing similar acts," Clement wrote.