Wildlife Research founder receives probation, fine for banding golden eagle without permit

By Neal Putnam

The executive director of the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona was fined $7,500 and placed on three years probation Tuesday after pleading guilty to banding a golden eagle without the required federal permit.

John David Bittner, 68, of Julian, was ordered to turn over electronic data he has collected over the years about eagles, hawks and other birds to government agencies. The prosecutor had asked for a $10,000 fine and successfully won the order for Bittner to turn over his data to government agencies.

No jail time was requested or ordered as U.S. District Court Judge David Bartick said it was not warranted for the misdemeanor offense. Bartick said Bittner had no criminal record and is an Army veteran.

Bartick said Bittner tagged over 200 eagles without the necessary permits in 2010. Bittner told the judge he

David Bittner talks to a Hawk Watch audience in Ramona in 2012. Sentinel file photo

currently has six fish and game permits. The judge ordered him to return 623 bands or provide an accounting for them.

“No birds were harmed in any way,” said his attorney Gerissa Santos. “I think he has suffered enough.”

Santos said the publicity about his case has tarnished his reputation, and some of his employees have been laid off.

“Is he still the executive director?” asked Bartick.

“Yes, but he is retiring,” replied Santos.

Bittner made his living from selling data on the movement of birds to assist companies with environmental impact statements needed for the construction and maintenance of power lines and wind power generators.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson disputed there was no harm done to the birds, saying some of them were “stressed out” during the banding procedure. She said Bittner was “putting extra devices on the birds” involving electronic tracking.

In court papers, Pierson said the non-profit organization Bittner founded was paid approximately $625,000 by various clients for its services in 2010. His permit to band birds expired on Jan. 31, 2010, and the permit was renewed on Aug. 12, 2010.

“While Bittner has devoted his life to wildlife, the facts and circumstances surrounding this offense suggest that over the years, Bittner has come to believe that because of his experience in the field, the requirements of permits need not apply to him,” stated Pierson in court documents. “…Bittner repeatedly violated the law by capturing and banding birds without federal and state permits, placing unpermitted devices on birds, conducting aerial surveys after authorization was denied…and allowing an eagle carcass to be brought across state lines.”

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent observed Bittner in Ramona giving an educational program to the public in 2010, according to court records. Bittner explained about capturing two red-tailed hawks. Pierson wrote the first wild hawk was shown “flapping and struggling” in contrast of two rescued birds that were conditioned to humans and showing no sign of stress to the crowd.

“There’s no question you are a significant biologist,” said Bartick to Bittner, adding “but to say that no one was harmed is not entirely accurate.”

Federal service agents visited Bittner in 2012 and inquired if he had any eagle carcasses. Bittner took the agents to four freezers on the property and they found 11 deceased golden eagles which may have been there 2 to 3 years, according to Pierson.

Bittner gave the eagle carcasses to the agents. Pierson wrote that eagle carcasses should be turned over immediately to the National Eagle Repository, as there is a lengthy waiting list for Native Americans to obtain eagle feathers for religious ceremonies.

Golden and bald eagles are protected under federal law and have been described as endangered.

“It is a sacred trust to preserve our natural heritage for future generations. This trust mandates that we observe both the spirit and letter of our law designed to protect the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy in a statement afterward.

Related posts:

  1. Head of Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona pleads guilty to banding golden eagle without a permit
  2. Aerial survey shows bald eagle activity
  3. McGee receives suspended sentence, probation in school drug sting
  4. Bald eagles nest—a first—in Ramona Grasslands
  5. Owner of marijuana plants growing in business park gets probation

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Aug 15 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.

2 Comments for “Wildlife Research founder receives probation, fine for banding golden eagle without permit”

  1. Sweetpea

    i dont think he banded 200 eagles in only 7 months. get your facts straight.

  2. david

    This is my question?
    There has been a zoo in the area for 30yrs
    I recently move up in the hills I have a view of the city, and San Francisco
    My house is on side of a hill with three decks with a sky view
    Tall trees, brush down below with a few houses
    I was shock to see a condor on my top deck sun bathing
    It was not scared of me standing there it comes every year
    I got on the computer to verified the condor I finely had to scare it away
    Than I notice the condors were not around flying and yelling
    One of my friend came over and said watch out for your small dogs
    Because a large golden eagle landed in his yard he scares it away
    A few days later he email me and said the eagle walk in his kitchen
    Attack his dog and flew away with it now that was hard to believe
    Than I did see the eagle flying and yelling near my deck about 6pm
    And realize there is a Hugh and I mean Hugh nest
    About 500 feed away high up in a tree
    The community is really worried every house whole has small dogs

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