The case has sparked anger and indignation. But wildlife experts say they often see animals wounded or killed by humans. As Brian Mann reports, some are calling for tougher penalties for this type of crime.
Brian Mann has our story.
Sydney Coffin was swimming in the Ausable River not far from the covered Jay Bridge in Jay. It was a perfect summer day. But then the Pennsylvania man, who was camping nearby looked over toward the bank and saw something horrible – two men attacking a great blue heron.
"I saw them throwing the stones and then they started hooting and hollering. That's when I looked at hte bird and saw that they'd hit it. They seemed to be celebrating the fact that they'd won at target practise."
Coffin and other witnesses called state police and the Conservation Department. They also called the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington.
"When they let out their scream of fright, it sounds like a dinosaur," said Jonas Borkholder, a Paul Smiths graduate who works at the Wildlife Refuge. He captured the heron, hoping that it wasn’t severely injured.
"It was in the reeds, so I just threw a blanket on top of him."
The heron was rushed back to the Rehabilitation Center, where director Wendy Hall and a veterinarian found that the stones had shattered its fragile body.
They were forced to euthanize the bird. Hall is keeping it, frozen, to be used as evidence against the two men accused in the attack.
Unwrapping the delicate, twisted body she points to a bone jutting between silver-blue feathers.
"The wing was out of the joint. It was upside down. The damage was so extensive that I couldn't even figure out, like the pieces of a puzzle, which way the wing goes," Hall said, pointing also to the bird's broken leg.
Hall starts to cry. This case has drawn a lot of attention, with an article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise sparking real outrage.
But it turns out the attack on this heron wasn’t unique.
In two separate incidents last summer, state environmental conservation police ticketed young men in Tupper Lake and in the town of Inlet for harassing loons with jetskis and for deliberately smashing a loon nest full of eggs.
Hall says a lot of the birds and animals that come to her center in Wilmington are the victims of deliberate attacks.
"Come on in," she says, slipping inside a living room-sized bird cage, where a Swainson’s hawk and a rough-legged hawk sit on perches.
The rough-legged hawk’s wing droops painfully. Both of these birds, Hall says, were shot by farmers – neither attack here in the North Country.
Hall is convinced that this kind of violence is part of a bigger, uglier pattern.
"This to me is just an exaggeration of the lack of caring that so many people [feel]. Taking our natural resources for granted, this is a real problem. People should be way more punished for doing something like this," she argued.
The two men accused of killing the heron, 22 year old Ryan Slater from Wilmington and 28 year old Michael Martindale Jr. from Jay, didn’t respond to messages left for them by NCPR.
One of the workers from the wildlife rehabilitation center did confront the pair that day on the bank of the Ausable River. Alex Hall says the men denied any involvement.
"Everyone was telling me that it was them and we exchanged some words that aren't appropriate. But they just kept lying to me and this kid was like, 'I have two dogs at home and I love them so much.'"
But environmental conservation police investigating the crime say witnesses identified the men and photographed their license plate.
DEC Lt. Daniel Darrah says Slater and Martindale have been charged with illegally taking protected wildlife and illegally taking a protected bird.
"The maximum penalty for each v iolation would be $250 and/or 15 days in jail," said Lt. Darrah. "A $75 surcharge is also applied to each conviction. And then in addition they can pay civil penalties totalling $300 for each count."
The men are due back in court in the town of Jay later this month.