Head of Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona pleads guilty to banding golden eagle without a permit

John David Bittner, executive director of the Wildlife Research Institute headquartered in Ramona, pled guilty today in federal court to capturing and banding 144 migratory birds, including at least one female golden eagle, even though he had no permit to do so.

The wildlife researcher who lives in Julian will be sentenced July 11 by Magistrate Judge David Bartick.

David Bittner talks to a group during a Saturday morning Hawk Watch at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona. Sentinel file photo

Bittner, whose work includes the capture and banding of eagles and other migratory birds to track their movements, had a federal bird banding permit that expired on Jan. 31, 2010, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy.

Two weeks later, Bittner requested that his permit be renewed. Federal officials advised Bittner that since he had not reported any data for the birds he had banded since October 2006, his permit would not be renewed until he submitted the delinquent data.

Officials said the lack of data is particularly troubling because it is the kind of data that allows the Fish and Game Service to monitor the health of the eagle populations within the United States.

Bittner admitted that between Jan. 31, 2010, and Aug. 12, 2010, he captured and banded more than 140 migratory birds and at least one golden eagle even though he had no permit.

Officials said the bald eagle population has rebounded in the past decades, but the golden eagle population is not expanding and may be in decline.

The golden eagle — first listed as endangered in the 1970s — was downgraded to “threatened” and then taken off the endangered list.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act continues to protect the birds by prohibiting anyone without a permit from “taking” eagles, including their parts, nests and eggs. The definition of “take” includes pursuit, shooting at, poisoning, killing, capturing and disturbing the birds.

“It is a sacred trust to preserve our natural heritage for future generations,” Duffy said. “This trust mandates that we observe both the spirit and letter of laws designed to protect the environment.”

Related posts:

  1. Aerial survey shows bald eagle activity
  2. Bald eagles nest—a first—in Ramona Grasslands
  3. Harris hawk family moves in
  4. Motorist pleads not guilty to DUI in head-on crash that injured father, daughter
  5. HawkWatch 2012 starts Jan. 7

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Apr 18 2013. Filed under Featured Story, News, Ramona. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Comments for “Head of Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona pleads guilty to banding golden eagle without a permit”

  1. Sandra

    Greetings n Salutations, do not despair, times are a changing…I am here, yours sincerely Sandra

  2. Anne

    I wish our federal agents would find out who poisons all the ground squirrels that our raptors eat and then die from secondary poisoning instead of harassing our biologists that work hard to protect our wildlife. And go after all the rednecks who shoot the coyotes and bobcats.

    • bob


      Wonderful wonderful wonderful how true. I posted a story on my blog about how I was able to keep the Gophers out of a certain area without poisoning or killing them. I even let three of them go outside the area after I caught them. Have two pairs of red tailed hawks living behind the house. Good for you! Great post. I would like to see volunteers help him get the old data together so that he can have his permit back.

  3. Chuck DeMund

    Mr. Bittner is the gentleman who "imported" the Stevens Kangaroo Rat into the Ramona Airport area. This has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and also limited the runway lenght need by fire fighting aircraft.

    This is common knowledge but no one has pressed the issue. He should have been in jail years ago.

    • Guest

      And because of this it is nearly impossible for RMWD to make any expansion plans in their spray fields off Rangeland Rd.

  4. Alice Jacobs

    Dave Bitner is a con man that has planted a non native specices of rat in the grasslands so that no one could develope the ramona airport and then he took millions in Federal,State, County and local donations to fund the Grassland RESEARCH Foundation and then HE DID NO RESEARCH. He literally made some of our more stupid local officials (Jim Piva) jump through hoops because they thought Dave had some influence with Diane Jacobs. Now everyone knows about the scheme and these people look stupid(er). Where did the money go Dave?

  5. Drew Peters


    Get over it. He did something wrong and got caught. No one was harassing him. It appears that the feller in questions is regarded as some sort of “golden eagle expert.” And it seems that Wildlife Research Institute seems to tout itself as the leading golden eagle conservation outfit of the region. You think they would know better. Gee…I guess not. Some experts…eh?

  6. Guest

    Wouldn’t his reports and studies submitted to the County as part of what was required by an applicant wanting to develop an area be invalid being that it was done illegally. What kind of recourse does a developer have today if their project was negatively impacted by this illegal activity?

    You also need to ask the federal agents if it was legal for Mr. Bittner to trap native species of raptors and let the public hold them. I believe that was illegal as well.

  7. LittleBird

    I would love to hear how the government justifies prosecuting one eagle biologist for a few technical permitting issues, while turning a blind eye to windfarms that have killed and continue to kill untold numbers of eagles each year. Really, I'd like to know! Oh, and now the US Fish and Wildlife Service will allow windfarms to kill condors. Way to go! Keep up the good work. We can all watch taxpayer money that has gone towards Condor recovery blow in the wind….

  8. bird lover

    This makes you think about why we band birds in the first place. Should a biologist with a long career of bird-banding be prosecuted when he fails to supply his data to the scientific community? Banding is sometimes very disturbing to birds. It's often done at the nest before the young can fly away. It can cause birds to die of stress, or parents to abandon chicks. In this case, patagial tags are riveted through the skin of the bird's wing without anesthetic. So I think that it is important to have a good reason to disturb birds in this way. Research is considered a good reason, but if this biologist is not sharing his data with other researchers, he is harassing birds merely for his own enjoyment. I want USFWS to protect our eagles from this kind of unwarranted harassment.

    • AZeagle

      Eagles do not get patagial tags. Eagles get metal leg bands.

      Patagial tags are put on the condors because they mute (excrete) down their legs and leg bands would clog eventually causing harm to the legs.

      Also, most raptors are captured during migration and not at nesting sites. In some places, bald eagle chicks are banded at the nest, but again, there are strict protocols that are followed.

      While there is a degree of stress in any wild bird capture, reputable banders are required by law to have birds in their care for a very short time. All licensed banders are required to turn over their data.

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