Michigan man who killed 18 wolves, 3 bald eagles loses hunting license for life

By Janine Puhak | Fox News

Hunting season is over forever for a Michigan man who pleaded guilty to numerous wildlife crimes following an extensive investigation.


The poacher has lost his hunting privileges for life and will spend three months in jail after illegally harvesting endangered gray wolves and protected bald eagles, among other species.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced on Wednesday that Kurt Johnston Duncan had been sentenced under a plea agreement after pleading guilty to seven poaching crimes in September. He pleaded guilty to three counts of the illegal take for the possession of wolves, three counts of the illegal take for the possession of bald eagles and one count of illegal commercialization of a protected species (wolf).

A Michigan poacher has lost his hunting privileges for life after illegally harvesting endangered gray wolves, among other species.

A Michigan poacher has lost his hunting privileges for life after illegally harvesting endangered gray wolves, among other species. (iStock)

The 56-year-old Pickford man was linked to 125 wildlife misdemeanors over an 18-month period, having committed numerous wildlife crimes against wolves, bald eagles, deer, turkey and bobcat, according to a months-long investigation by conservation officers of the DNR. The Detroit News reports that he killed 18 wolves and three bald eagles.

Kurt Johnston Duncan was linked to 125 wildlife misdemeanors over an 18-month period, having committed numerous wildlife crimes against bald eagles, among other species.

Kurt Johnston Duncan was linked to 125 wildlife misdemeanors over an 18-month period, having committed numerous wildlife crimes against bald eagles, among other species. (iStock)
In a May statement, DNR detectives said that Duncan was trapping the wild animals because he could, and was using the creatures for crafts and sales, or simply disposing of them.

Now, the poacher has been stripped of all hunting and trapping privileges in the Great Lake State for life, and cannot assist anyone else in these pursuits. Given the charge, he is also banned from hunting in the 48 member states of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.


Duncan been ordered to spend 90 days in jail with 18 to 24 months on probation, and pay $36,240 in fines: $27,000 for reimbursement for the illegally taken animals, and $9,240 for court fees and costs.

In addition, all items and evidence seized by the department during the execution of search warrants, such as firearms and snares, must be forfeited.

“This is a historical case for the division and department,” Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division, explained in a news release. “We hope this poaching case acts as a deterrent to criminals for committing future wildlife crimes such as this. Our officers did an excellent job working as a team and building this investigation so it could move quickly through the criminal justice system.”
 

Daz

Active Member
Dirtbags all over apparently: Anybody up for some federally protected Goliath Grouper filets? How about some undersized lobsters? No? Wanna see an illegally kept nurse shark before it dies from CL poisoning?


Our FL Keys: Arrive on vacation, leave on probation...
 

Squamishpoacher

Active Member
The level of repeating his crime is a behavioral problem. The sentence will do nothing to change the behavior other than making him more dilligent in his efforts not to get caught. That could put those who are trying to stop his activity at risk, and it sends a message that getting caught is nothing but a minor inconvenience to others like him. A lifetime hunting ban will not stop him from hunting as he shows no regard for the rules now so a licence is only an administrative detail.
 

Matt B

...
WFF Supporter
The level of repeating his crime is a behavioral problem. The sentence will do nothing to change the behavior other than making him more dilligent in his efforts not to get caught. That could put those who are trying to stop his activity at risk, and it sends a message that getting caught is nothing but a minor inconvenience to others like him. A lifetime hunting ban will not stop him from hunting as he shows no regard for the rules now so a licence is only an administrative detail.
So what would be the appropriate approach to punishment or restitution, in your view?
 

Zak

WFF Supporter
WFF Supporter
Courts make plea deals when they dont have enough evidence and or they may not get a conviction .
Eh, not really. It is more about how overloaded the justice system is. Nearly all civil cases settle and I think the vast majority of criminal convictions are plea deals. And it is not the court that makes the deal, but the prosecution and defense that negotiate a plea deal and present it to the court. And you could just as well say that defendants make plea deals when they may not get an acquittal.

Each side assesses their risk of going to trial, and then they usually agree on pleading guilty to a smaller charge than the prosecution would seek if it went to trial.
 

jangles

Kicked
Eh, not really. It is more about how overloaded the justice system is. Nearly all civil cases settle and I think the vast majority of criminal convictions are plea deals. And it is not the court that makes the deal, but the prosecution and defense that negotiate a plea deal and present it to the court. And you could just as well say that defendants make plea deals when they may not get an acquittal.

Each side assesses their risk of going to trial, and then they usually agree on pleading guilty to a smaller charge than the prosecution would seek if it went to trial.
It is the court that has the final say . Judge doesnt have to accept any deal .
 

Zak

WFF Supporter
WFF Supporter
It is the court that has the final say . Judge doesnt have to accept any deal .
That gets back to how overloaded the court system is. If the prosecutor tells the judge that a plea deal had been reached, it is extremely unlikely that the judge will force the prosecutor to go to trial instead.

The bigger problem in my view is that innocent defendants will plead out because they can't afford to go to trial and might be wrongly convicted of a more serious charge if they do go to trial.
 
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Squamishpoacher

Active Member
There is never a single answer to these issues. I base my opinion on over 35 years of fisheries enforcement in inland, coastal and open sea fisheries; in recreational, commercial, Aboriginal and science-based test fisheries, and in fish habitat protection in freshwater and marine environments. In some cases, it is a revolving door with repeating offenders while in others, one encounter is enough to change a person's outlook.

In my experience with the courts, albeit, in Canada, the concept of resource management is not well known by judges or prosecutors. The agencies responsible for delivering enforcement of fish and game law are grossly underfunded, but that argument exists for likely every government agency. It is impossible and always will be.

Many years ago, a career bureaucrat explained the problem to me, and it stuck to this day. In Canada, we have a largely public funded health care system. How can a bean counter in our capital explain to a family in Manitoba, whose child needs something to ease their suffering, the money isn't there for that because we've sliced it off to create another 10,000 salmon for the recreational fishery? Argue all you want that those fish mean income and jobs for people who pay taxes that fund other programs. But, on the surface, to most people, and most people don’t fish, to most people it’s a valid point and it’s a tough sell to convince the majority otherwise.

As these agencies lack funding and by extension, adequate, well trained, and equipped staff, it is difficult, time consuming and costly to catch violators. Most violations that are encountered, in my experience, tend to be minor, ticketable offences for the most part coming from the recreational fishery. These are infractions like, no licences, illegal gear, closed area/boundary violations and the like. The courts see little in the way of serious offences against natural resources so there is no yardstick to compare to. They are in a way, limited by a lack of this benchmark, so they look at similar past offenders, often without the means to view all the circumstances in those cases, and act on what they have empirically before them. These same judges, let us not forget, see people for much more serious offences. Balancing the scales of justice is not easy.

In this circumstance we only get to see what is in the news release, but I think there’s a lot here if we really look at what is being said. It tells us that Mr. Duncan committed at least 125 violations over an 18-month period. Keep in mind, those are for violations where evidence was found, and I would wonder how many other violations he committed lacked evidence. 125 violations in 18 months shows a behavior by habit. That is his lifestyle. He, “stated that he was catching the animals because he could and “likes to do it.” We don’t know if he had any previous convictions so have to assume that he didn’t, but he was obviously pretty good at what he did.

He could have received, according to the press release of May 20, 2020:

  • Up to 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine for each wolf.
  • Restitution of $500 per wolf.
  • Up to 90 days in jail and $500 fine each for the other wildlife crimes.
18 wolves and 125 violations. Rarely if ever is the maximum penalty meted out, if you look at the math and consider that of what he was sentenced, $27,000 was the monetary fine, the remainder in costs, the amount is small compared to what it could have been. Of the 90- day sentence, 30 is being held in abeyance in case he violates his 18-to-24-month probation. So, if he is a good fellow, in a couple of years this episode will be behind him.

So to answer your question, what would be the appropriate penalty? I think when we see stories like this, we are shocked because in our community, things like this are a grave event. Take several members of an endangered species out of the gene pool and you alter it forever. Humans have been particularly good at that. In this case we do not get the entire story. Did he have priors? Was a lifetime firearm ban not considered? Does probation include education about why his behavior is harmful? There was evidence there was monetary gain here as part motivation…if so, how much?

Publicizing these findings does do some to act as a deterrent to others who would do similar. But in my experience, it also makes violators more wary of being caught. Most violators can be reformed by education. This has been proven in situations with far greater societal ramifications than wildlife violations.

Government does an extremely poor job of education when it comes to resource management. You only need look at this forum and see where members ask, why does Washington Fish and Wildlife do the things they do? That is no different here in Canada or probably anywhere. Education is the most important tool resource managers have. Fines do little to change behavior but education, in my experience, can make a world of difference.

The press releases around this event is a part of that. But, government needs to do a lot more, because of their limited funds, to get people on side and generate voluntary compliance. Voluntary compliance comes when people understand that their little acts can have positive or negative results. In fish and wildlife management, it is like the death of a thousand cuts. Educate people to understand that simple acts have meaning, and you can see big results.
 
There is never a single answer to these issues. I base my opinion on over 35 years of fisheries enforcement in inland, coastal and open sea fisheries; in recreational, commercial, Aboriginal and science-based test fisheries, and in fish habitat protection in freshwater and marine environments. In some cases, it is a revolving door with repeating offenders while in others, one encounter is enough to change a person's outlook.

In my experience with the courts, albeit, in Canada, the concept of resource management is not well known by judges or prosecutors. The agencies responsible for delivering enforcement of fish and game law are grossly underfunded, but that argument exists for likely every government agency. It is impossible and always will be.

Many years ago, a career bureaucrat explained the problem to me, and it stuck to this day. In Canada, we have a largely public funded health care system. How can a bean counter in our capital explain to a family in Manitoba, whose child needs something to ease their suffering, the money isn't there for that because we've sliced it off to create another 10,000 salmon for the recreational fishery? Argue all you want that those fish mean income and jobs for people who pay taxes that fund other programs. But, on the surface, to most people, and most people don’t fish, to most people it’s a valid point and it’s a tough sell to convince the majority otherwise.

As these agencies lack funding and by extension, adequate, well trained, and equipped staff, it is difficult, time consuming and costly to catch violators. Most violations that are encountered, in my experience, tend to be minor, ticketable offences for the most part coming from the recreational fishery. These are infractions like, no licences, illegal gear, closed area/boundary violations and the like. The courts see little in the way of serious offences against natural resources so there is no yardstick to compare to. They are in a way, limited by a lack of this benchmark, so they look at similar past offenders, often without the means to view all the circumstances in those cases, and act on what they have empirically before them. These same judges, let us not forget, see people for much more serious offences. Balancing the scales of justice is not easy.

In this circumstance we only get to see what is in the news release, but I think there’s a lot here if we really look at what is being said. It tells us that Mr. Duncan committed at least 125 violations over an 18-month period. Keep in mind, those are for violations where evidence was found, and I would wonder how many other violations he committed lacked evidence. 125 violations in 18 months shows a behavior by habit. That is his lifestyle. He, “stated that he was catching the animals because he could and “likes to do it.” We don’t know if he had any previous convictions so have to assume that he didn’t, but he was obviously pretty good at what he did.

He could have received, according to the press release of May 20, 2020:

  • Up to 90 days in jail and $1,000 fine for each wolf.
  • Restitution of $500 per wolf.
  • Up to 90 days in jail and $500 fine each for the other wildlife crimes.
18 wolves and 125 violations. Rarely if ever is the maximum penalty meted out, if you look at the math and consider that of what he was sentenced, $27,000 was the monetary fine, the remainder in costs, the amount is small compared to what it could have been. Of the 90- day sentence, 30 is being held in abeyance in case he violates his 18-to-24-month probation. So, if he is a good fellow, in a couple of years this episode will be behind him.

So to answer your question, what would be the appropriate penalty? I think when we see stories like this, we are shocked because in our community, things like this are a grave event. Take several members of an endangered species out of the gene pool and you alter it forever. Humans have been particularly good at that. In this case we do not get the entire story. Did he have priors? Was a lifetime firearm ban not considered? Does probation include education about why his behavior is harmful? There was evidence there was monetary gain here as part motivation…if so, how much?

Publicizing these findings does do some to act as a deterrent to others who would do similar. But in my experience, it also makes violators more wary of being caught. Most violators can be reformed by education. This has been proven in situations with far greater societal ramifications than wildlife violations.

Government does an extremely poor job of education when it comes to resource management. You only need look at this forum and see where members ask, why does Washington Fish and Wildlife do the things they do? That is no different here in Canada or probably anywhere. Education is the most important tool resource managers have. Fines do little to change behavior but education, in my experience, can make a world of difference.

The press releases around this event is a part of that. But, government needs to do a lot more, because of their limited funds, to get people on side and generate voluntary compliance. Voluntary compliance comes when people understand that their little acts can have positive or negative results. In fish and wildlife management, it is like the death of a thousand cuts. Educate people to understand that simple acts have meaning, and you can see big results.
Thanks for the time you spent giving your educated and considered response. I wish, however, that I was optimistic and believed - as you stated - that "Educate people to understand that simple acts have meaning, and you can see big results." Maybe some people . . . but stupidity and cruelty are not caused by ignorance.
 

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