State wildlife experts say the discovery of a turkey vulture that was recently shot with an air rifle in Logan underscores an ongoing poaching problem in Cache Valley.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officer Rob Johnson responded the morning of April 14 to a home near 350 E. Center St. in Logan, where a resident reported finding the injured adult vulture.
The adult birds are identified by their dark plumage and red, featherless heads.
Johnson said the animal was unable to fly and had likely been suffering for days before being noticed. It was later taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden where X-rays revealed a metallic pellet lodged between two wing bones — one of which was broken.
On Thursday, the center’s executive director, Dalyn Erickson, said the wing was wrapped successfully and that the vulture will likely recover in the next couple of months.
Meanwhile, Johnson said the DWR takes bird poaching cases seriously and that an investigation is under way.
“This is a federally protected bird, and it was shot illegally,” he said. “Someone caused prolonged suffering for this animal, and it was essentially wasting away.”
The vulture incident, Johnson said, adds to an alarming streak of avian wildlife poaching over the last few years.
Johnson said that in early 2010 he began investigating a case that grew to include 17 raptor poachings within Cache Valley. Those birds included rough-legged hawks, red-tail hawks and a great horned owl.
Johnson is just one conservation officer who handles cases in Northern Utah.
“We’ve been plagued with raptor poaching,” he said. “It’s our job to investigate these cases and identify suspects.”
As of Thursday, the rehabilitation center had four protected birds recovering from bullet wounds.
Though the turkey vulture is not listed as endangered or threatened, Johnson said killing the animal is a punishable offense. Harming a peregrine falcon or endangered bird species is a third-degree felony in Utah, punishable by large fines and possibly prison time. Killing any raptor, except for endangered species, is a class-B misdemeanor.
“These birds have a niche in the environment and are important to the people of the state of Utah,” Johnson said. “The overall message is that most birds are protected, and we can’t shoot them.”
The DWR wants those with information on poachers to come forward anonymously. The division’s poaching hotline is 1-800-662-DEER (3337). Reports can also be made online, and awards may be available for information that leads to formal criminal charges.
Erickson said the turkey vulture’s health is improving. She plans to have it returned to Logan for release.
“The bird is eating and getting stronger and doing well,” she said, adding that the pellet has been left inside the wing to avoid complications. “It’s more dangerous to remove it than to leave it in.”