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Thread: Wildlife photographer pleads guilty to violating Endangered Species Act

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    Default Wildlife photographer pleads guilty to violating Endangered Species Act

    A Florida news outlet has reported that a prominent bird photographer has pled guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act. On at least eight occasions, this person was observed harassing nesting snail kites in order to get them to fly so his workshop customers could get flight shots. Snail kites are on the endangered species list; harassing them is a Federal offense. More details in the link below:

    http://www.wesh.com/news/central-flo...#ixzz2uZKdZOui

    I hope that all photographers read the news article and act accordingly.

    John

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    So disappointing! TFS.

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    I have known about the case against Jim Neiger pretty much since its inception. The fact is that Jim was railroaded. It is a very unfortunate case of government gone amok. The "evidence" was ridiculous, a short video of him photographing snail kites from more than 100 feet away, sitting quietly in his boat. He was put into a corner as far as defending himself as the costs involved would have been astronomical.
    Have you ever heard of someone who took a plea as the best option in an effort to save themselves and their families only to be proven innocent later?

    Jim Niger was protective of the birds, often cautioning fisherman to stay away from their unseen nests. And while studying and photographing the birds for many years he often shared his findings with research teams that I believe were from the state of Florida. Jim is the victim here.
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    Thanks for sharing this insight, Artie. Always helps to hear the other side of the story.

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    The "evidence" was ridiculous, a short video of him photographing snail kites from more than 100 feet away,
    The news article states the following (boldface added by me): "The Endangered Species Act requires people to stay at least 500 feet from nests of the Snail Kite, an endangered raptor."

    So, if he was 100 feet away, then he violated the law. Pretty simple...

    John

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    I agree 100% Artie! Jim had no choice but to enter a plea. He simply couldn't afford the enormous legal fees (six figures) to defend himself and clear his name. Had he not accepted the plea deal, he would have faced the prospect of both prison time and a much heavier fine. The term 'railroaded' is entirely appropriate here.

    I have never once seen Jim harass Snail Kites or approach nests. I don't know of another photographer who cares more about the well being of these birds.
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    Attached Images Attached Images
     
    Here's a photo of a group of researchers banding a female Snail Kite that I took from Jim's boat back in 2009. I'd wager that this is far more stressful on a Snail Kite than Jim photographing from his boat 50-100 feet from a bird on a perch.
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    Attached Images Attached Images
     
    And for an endangered species, you'd think that researchers would place transmitters onto females in a way that doesn't make mating difficult or impossible. Also taken from Jim's boat.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Guastella View Post
    The news article states the following (boldface added by me): "The Endangered Species Act requires people to stay at least 500 feet from nests of the Snail Kite, an endangered raptor."

    So, if he was 100 feet away, then he violated the law. Pretty simple...

    John
    They offered no evidence that he was close to a nest; only that he was close to a bird. I've seen both the videos and the still frames that they submitted as evidence.
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    Somebody help me out here...when it says:

    'in lieu of turning over his boat, motor and camera, Nieger has also agreed to pay $9000 in fines'

    Does that mean he can still lose his property?

    It also sounds like the prosecution could still change their minds in regards to prison time and
    fines?

    Doug

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    I have been on Jim's boat several times and this is my personal experience : We always stayed pretty far from the nests and in no way the kites seem to notice or care about us. In fact activity was low at that time and we didn't get many frames (Doug was on the boat too). We gave up on the location and ventured somewhere else because we didn't want to get close to the nests.

    At the same time we saw fish and wildlife people were blasting through the "protected" kite area with the air boat in a no-wake zone full-throttle all day long. Jim's boat on the other hand is equipped with a small electric motor that he uses near the kite area to cruise slowly, quietly and with no wake.

    I'm sorry Jim couldn't afford a top notch lawyer to clear his name.
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    Other than jim and the respective researchers no one has spent more time on Toho with the kites then me. I've decided its best if I stay out of this discussion though. The following is simply a link to better educate those who are not familiar with the kites. Nothing more nothing less.

    http://m.myfwc.com/conservation/you-...e/snail-kites/

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    I haven't posted here in a long, long time. I caught the news about Mr. Neiger from my Facebook feed. I've been a fan of his work for years, and I pretty much immediately assumed there was much more to the story. Thank you Arthur, Doug, and Arash for confirming what I suspected. I've worked in the field with biologists before, here in Canada, and I can pretty much attest to a lot more stress being created at times by them than any credible photographer I've ever encountered. Of course they make the argument it's all for the eventual good of the birds, but I have a suspicion a lot of it is for the good of justifying their own jobs, or gathering data for a thesis that will be added to a heap of other largely ignored works generated on a yearly basis.
    I hope Jim Neiger continues his work, and that this is not a sign of what's to come for all of us who photograph wildlife, but I suspect it is.

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    I too, feel like Jim has gotten the smelly end of the stick.. However, this action should serve notice to a lot of photographers who "push the window" on getting images of Bald Eagles.. I have seen numerous images of Bald Eagles that had to heve been taken fairly close, or greatly cropped.. Remember that 500 feet is almost two football fields distance...

    I hope that Jim continues his workshops and comes out of this O.K..

    Dave

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    Very interesting.

    It's always good to learn some of this stuff since some of us new photographers are not aware. I only started photographing birds about a year ago and it is a hobby for me. Never knew about some of this restrictions. I have been to Florida before but only did extensive photographing in Gatorland, Orlando. I'm going back to Florida next month and to some reserve and parks and Im very glad to have learn some of this laws/restrictions on certain species. Certainly something I will respect on my trip.
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    Never knew about some of this restrictions. Certainly something I will respect on my trip.
    Well, if everyone now is more aware of the appropriate behavior around wildlife, then at least something positive will have come from this unfortunate event.

    John

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    You can not be within 500 feet of a nest there is no restriction for perched or flying birds and the bird has to be listed as endangered. Bald Eagles are no longer listed as endangered but they still are protected under a different statue for Bald and Golden Eagles
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Guastella View Post
    Well, if everyone now is more aware of the appropriate behavior around wildlife, then at least something positive will have come from this unfortunate event.

    John
    What is appropriate behavior and who gets to define it outside of federal and state regulation. The only reason Jim was charged was do to the special status of the Kites if he was next to an Osprey nest there would have been no issues. The Ospreys on Blue Cypress are routinely approached on their nest and they are thriving with last years nesting population being the largest ever counted on the lake. Now when I was on lake Toho my guide being a Florida wildlife biologist was well aware of the 500 yard rule for the nest so we set up within 25 yards of a feeding platform and had Kites fly right by the boat all legal. So were we to close according to you or some birder without a clue.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Lacy View Post
    You can not be within 500 feet of a nest there is no restriction for perched or flying birds and the bird has to be listed as endangered. Bald Eagles are no longer listed as endangered but they still are protected under a different statue for Bald and Golden Eagles
    There are restrictions for bald eagle, nests and hunting perches. BEs are not Endangered by they're considered of Special Concern, despite their huge, growing numbers. I shoot at a Hunting Perch which literally has a picnic table under it. The law allows for historical bird/people usage, so that I don't believe that I'm violating any law when I'm much, much closer than 500-feet, while casual strollers literally walk underneath the birds.

    Still, this should be of great concern to all here. I'm on very good terms with the rangers at this particular park and they're very realistic about what's reasonable. This is a Colorado State park. Still, I've been standing in the same place and have some know-it-all from a local raptor rescue read me the riot act. In my limited experience, Federal agents can be a lot less understanding than our Colorado State rangers. If some do-gooder reports you for harassing a raptor, it might be expensive to defend yourself.

    We should all know the exact status of the birds that we photograph and be aware of others in the area that might be anti-photography. Most "birders" are understanding, but some are downright hostile. You never know when they might be good friends with a Federal agent and cause you a lot of trouble.

    Can you tell the difference between a Sage Grouse and a Gunnison Sage Grouse by just looking? If you're going to shoot either in Colorado, then you **** well better know, since the Gunnison is Endangered and SG is merely of Special Concern. There's a road where you can park in your car blind on the shoulder and the SG will literally surround you. That's okay under the SC rules, but not Endangered. It turns out that their territories overlap, so be careful. That's just an example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Lacy View Post
    What is appropriate behavior and who gets to define it outside of federal and state regulation. The only reason Jim was charged was do to the special status of the Kites if he was next to an Osprey nest there would have been no issues. The Ospreys on Blue Cypress are routinely approached on their nest and they are thriving with last years nesting population being the largest ever counted on the lake. Now when I was on lake Toho my guide being a Florida wildlife biologist was well aware of the 500 yard rule for the nest so we set up within 25 yards of a feeding platform and had Kites fly right by the boat all legal. So were we to close according to you or some birder without a clue.
    Despite Osprey being routinely approached and insensitive to such approaches, that is not allowed under the letter of the law for birds of Special Concern. Jim's experience has me rethinking a past practice of visiting some nests and simply staying outside the Osprey's "comfort range" (well under 500-ft.). Instead, I'll probably visit some hunting perches that routinely have human traffic. Also, I know an Osprey nesting platform right on the side of a golf course, that'll be my preferred site. Same goes for burrowing owls. I follow the ones near public walking paths instead of those in more isolated areas.

    Just something to consider.

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    I have never met or photographed with Jim Neiger, and I am not going to sit here in judgment when I don't know the facts of the case. However, I would like to address a few things that really tick me off.

    Most of these researchers are doing far more harm to birds than any nature photographer ALL IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. Sometimes when I am photographing bandings, I am actually wincing. I don't like the way the birds are struggling when trapped in mist nets or removed from nest cavities when they are only days old to be poked, prodded and banded...not to mention the GPS devices now being placed on a # of species. Remind me why we as nature photographers are being vilified?

    Everyone knows that the media likes to put a slant on almost all stories in an attempt to sensationalize them and make more money. The real facts of the case one way or the other are never going to be known b/c the case is being plea bargained and speculating, just like ***uming, will only make you look like one.

    Don't folks on FB have anything better to do that kick people while they are down and rush to judgment when they don't know the man or the facts and probably never will??? I suspect that many of them are living in glass houses, and the hypocrisy is baffling!!! It seems some photographers are posting stories simply to bring attention to themselves rather than to bring about a healthy debate on an important topic. Doesn't anybody have better things to do than trash people they don't even know on social networks?

    Nature photographers are not the root cause of issues with endangered species...loss of habitat is. Maybe folks need to be more focused on how they can leave less of a foot print in their own lives rather than talking trash about others. I am just so sick and tired of all of the negativity and hypocrisy out there.

    Stepping down off of my soapbox now!
    Last edited by Daniel Cadieux; 02-28-2014 at 06:33 PM. Reason: corrected typo as per request
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    David I was using the Ospreys as an example that being close to a animal will not automatically cause then to die of shock as some will have us believe.
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    What is appropriate behavior and who gets to define it outside of federal and state regulation. The only reason Jim was charged was do to the special status of the Kites if he was next to an Osprey nest there would have been no issues. The Ospreys on Blue Cypress are routinely approached on their nest and they are thriving with last years nesting population being the largest ever counted on the lake. Now when I was on lake Toho my guide being a Florida wildlife biologist was well aware of the 500 yard rule for the nest so we set up within 25 yards of a feeding platform and had Kites fly right by the boat all legal. So were we to close according to you or some birder without a clue.
    I'm not sure what points you're trying to make. There are federal and state regulations restricting human access to various categories of wildlife, and these restrictions can change depending on location and season. As an example, in one of the wildlife sanctuaries I photograph in, a trail with an osprey nesting platform is open to people most of the year, but that trail is closed off every spring as the ospreys begin their nesting activity. This is completely appropriate - no one could sensibly argue with it.

    As far as our general behavior as bird photographers is concerned, we should at the very least follow the ethical guidelines established by the American Birding Association: http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html

    Most of these researchers are doing far more harm to birds than any nature photographer ALL IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE.
    Marina, I agree with you that some of the activities wildlife biologists engage in (particularly banding) seem excessive and potentially harmful to the animals. I'm a biologist myself, but I still question some of the things being done for scientific purposes. However, the fact of the matter is that those scientists have permits to engage in those activities, so they are well within the law, regardless of how we feel about it.

    John
    Last edited by John Guastella; 02-28-2014 at 06:37 PM. Reason: Grammar correction

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marina Scarr View Post
    I have never met or photographed with Jim Neiger, and I am not going to sit here in judgment when I don't know the facts of the case. However, I would like to address a few things that really tick me off.

    Most of these researchers are doing far more harm to birds than any nature photographer ALL IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. Sometimes when I am photographing bandings, I am actually wincing. I don't like the way the birds are struggling when trapped in mist nets or removed from nest cavities when they are only days old to be poked, prodded and banded...not to mention the GPS devices now being placed on a # of species. Remind me why we as nature photographers are being vilified?

    Everyone knows that the media likes to put a slant on almost all stories in an attempt to sensationalize them and make more money. The real facts of the case one way or the other are never going to be known b/c the case is being plea bargained and speculating, just like ***uming, will only make you look like one.

    Don't folks on FB have anything better to do that kick people while they are down and rush to judgment when they don't know the man or the facts and probably never will??? I suspect that many of them are living in glass houses, and the hypocrisy is baffling!!! It seems some photographers are posting stories simply to bring attention to themselves rather than to bring about a healthy debate on an important topic. Doesn't anybody have better things to do than trash people they don't even know on social networks?

    Nature photographers are not the root cause of issues with endangered species...loss of habitat is. Maybe folks need to be more focused on how they can leave less of a foot print in their own lives rather than talking trash about others. I am just so sick and tired of all of the negativity and hypocrisy out there.

    Stepping down off of my soapbox now!
    There is No way anyone could have worded my thoughts any better than this ! Thank You Marina !

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marina Scarr View Post
    I have never met or photographed with Jim Neiger, and I am not going to sit here in judgment when I don't know the facts of the case. However, I would like to address a few things that really tick me off.

    Most of these researchers are doing far more harm to birds than any nature photographer ALL IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. Sometimes when I am photographing bandings, I am actually wincing. I don't like the way the birds are struggling when trapped in mist nets or removed from nest cavities when they are only days old to be poked, prodded and banded...not to mention the GPS devices now being placed on a # of species. Remind me why we as nature photographers are being vilified?

    Everyone knows that the media likes to put a slant on almost all stories in an attempt to sensationalize them and make more money. The real facts of the case one way or the other are never going to be known b/c the case is being plea bargained and speculating, just like ***uming, will only make you look like one.

    Don't folks on FB have anything better to do that kick people while they are down and rush to judgment when they don't know the man or the facts and probably never will??? I suspect that many of them are living in glass houses, and the hypocrisy is baffling!!! It seems some photographers are posting stories simply to bring attention to themselves rather than to bring about a healthy debate on an important topic. Doesn't anybody have better things to do than trash people they don't even know on social networks?

    Nature photographers are not the root cause of issues with endangered species...loss of habitat is. Maybe folks need to be more focused on how they can leave less of a foot print in their own lives rather than talking trash about others. I am just so sick and tired of all of the negativity and hypocrisy out there.

    Stepping down off of my soapbox now!
    Very well said.

    IMHO there is so much hypocrisy and irrationality in federal law, it is hard not to look at incidents like this with a very jaundiced eye. In the USA at least, it has come to the point that if you know what Federal, State, City or County regulatory code to look in, by the letter of the law almost everything is illegal. I am not just talking about wildlife photography, but life in general. It is how the law is enforced, which is in no way consistent or predictable, that the politics of the moment rears its ugly head.

    I have no opinion on what this photographer did or didn't do, since I have no firsthand knowledge of the incident. I do know the federal authorities will eagerly hang him out to dry and do all they can to ruin him and "make an example". But a local developer with the right political connections who sends money to the right people will be given gleeful federal, state, and local blessing to bulldoze and develop the very same sort of nesting habitat of the birds that this photographer may or may not have in some way "disturbed".

    I have always thought that Point Reyes National Seashore in California illustrates this hypocrisy quite well. The area is managed by the National Park System, so I am sure all you know what that means. It is patrolled by National Park Service rangers, who typically enforce the "letter" of the law without any interpretation, discretion, or injection of common sense. If the ranger interprets that you have "disturbed" any creatures, or damaged any feature of the park in any way, you can usually count on formal enforcement action being taken against you. I guess that would be "OK", as long as we all know and are all bound by the same rules, right? But here is the hypocrisy...cattle ranching is allowed within most of the open terrain in the seashore. So nearly everywhere you go, you are confronted with herds of cattle grazing and trampling the "protected" terrain into a morass of mud and cow manure, ranchers driving their pick-up trucks through the meadows, etc.

    This is why I take incidents like this with a grain of salt. Federal law is "political" law, and its long arm is generally only wielded against those without the money or political connections to be "above" it. Photographers typically make easy targets, despite the fact that whatever environmental "damage" they do is usually minimal or non-existent.

    End of rant.
    Last edited by Bryan Munn; 02-28-2014 at 11:09 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug West View Post
    Somebody help me out here...when it says:

    'in lieu of turning over his boat, motor and camera, Nieger has also agreed to pay $9000 in fines'

    Does that mean he can still lose his property?

    It also sounds like the prosecution could still change their minds in regards to prison time and
    fines?

    Doug


    In plea deals with federal cases, typically the US Attorney makes a "recommendation" to the judge that they would be satisfied with the penalties agreed upon in the deal. But it is not binding...the judge can still disregard the recommendation and impose a stiffer penalty, as judges often do when they are "grandstanding" in cases they know will receive media attention.

    Regarding the penalties in this case....are most of you aware that those penalties/potential penalties are significantly more severe than first offenders in most jurisdictions would receive for residential burglary or felonius (unarmed) assault? Does that seems "imbalanced" to anyone besides me?

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    Please get back on your soap box Marina...that was awesome!!!! I appreciate the members of this forum and the participants in this thread who are not waiting in line...or trying to be first(!), to cast the first stones. Thank you also to Arthur Morris and others who have brought some clarity to the situation, with preponderant real life experiences with Mr. Neiger, and not suspicions, innuendos, and judgements....

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    I'm not sure I agree with the tone of this thread. What I hear is an understandable defense of Jim - which sounds warranted to a point. Clearly he is an excellent photographer and individual who respects wildlife and unintentionally got tied up in a prosecution for violating the Endangered Species Act.

    But this kind of case is an opportunity to talk about ethics. Dave's comment about pushing the window is on the money. Many of us have pushed the window with bird photography. I'm not sure any top bird photographer can state that they don't push the window. And when is pushing the window going too far? Could we push the window a little less and teach others to avoid these situations. Are techniques to push the window okay for professionals but not for amateurs? One photographer pushing a nesting bird off the nest is a minor problem - but the same action by twenty photographers a day is a problem. High traffic areas put the spotlight on photographers to do the right thing.

    It's also not fair to completely blame researchers and enforcement officers for this. I understand they are over zealous. "Barney with a badge" has been a problem for all of us.

    Perhaps sharing the lessons we have learned and how we have modified behavior to push the envelop less often or more lightly would add value and demonstrate photographers are not the problem. There are a lot of people who believe the issue is with photographers - not researchers. And none of us need that fire to be fed with more flaming here.

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    There is lots more to consider here. First off, the ABA code of ethics is all common sense. Next, as Steve Holt mentioned on the Facebook lynching, why were no warnings given? It surely sounds as if Jim were set up as an example. If every fisherman and hunter who approached a kite nest were jailed the prisons in Osceola County would be over-crowded. I have personally seen Jim caution fisherman as to the presence of various kite nests. In fact,it is pretty clear that t the local fisherman who incorrectly assumed that it was Jim who turned them in to the authorities (it was not Jim) vandalized his motor to the tune of about $10K by cutting all the wires while the boat was parked in his driveway overnight.

    Ethics are personal. The law is the law. In my 30 years plus of doing this I have found that those who scream the loudest about ethics are the ones raping the birds and wildlife when nobody is looking.... If I do not consider it a danger to do so I always open my mouth when I see photographers doing the wrong thing. And/or take photos of a license plate and take appropriate action. There is no one to police us but us.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryan Munn View Post
    Regarding the penalties in this case....are most of you aware that those penalties/potential penalties are significantly more severe than first offenders in most jurisdictions would receive for residential burglary or felonius (unarmed) assault? Does that seems "imbalanced" to anyone besides me?
    Me too. Contrast that with an old case in NYC. They caught some guy shooting Snowy Owls and Peregrines to stuff them. He has some ridiculously high number of skins in his possession. He was fined $5 per bird. Maybe Jim will get that judge.....
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    I would like to share here what Michael Pancier, an attorney practicing in Miami (and I believe still a BPN member), wrote in response to someone's Facebook post on this issue. It's nice to have a legal opinion.

    You can't go simply by what is in a plea agreement. Folks dealing with the feds usually have no choice but to take a plea. The cost of taking even a misdemeanor case to trial in federal court can cost someone in excess of $50K. Secondly, the common practice with the feds is to overcharge defendants in a way to strongarm them into a plea. The penalties of being found guilty in a multi count misdemeanor case in federal court could cost someone hundreds of thousands of dollars. Remember, this is a misdemeanor; not a felony. Furthermore, the regulations in the ESA are not clear cut; are not approved by congress; and are enforced haphazard especially under the harassment provision of the act. This is a strict liability statute where the issue of intent need not be proven. Likewise, more distress is caused to these birds by the capture and tagging and placement of radio transmitters on these birds. Yet, because this is done by someone with a license, it's ok. So think about it.


    Let's say one day you're out with your group taking pictures of endangered birds. Some pissed off birder thinks you're harassing the birds and claims you're within an arbitrary number of feet of a nest which is buried somewhere in the code of federal regulations. You are notified by the Department of Justice that you're going to be charged. You take the position that you were not within this area and are innocent. Given the choices of taking this case to trial to vindicate you, which is going to cost you at least %50K and the risk of being found guilty of a non felony which entails fines of up to $100K; I posit that unless you have a bank account with Trump money; you will try to negotiate a plea and pay some fine similar to what is being paid here. It's not a felony. And this is what happens on this level.

    It gets worse when the feds start strong arming folks with Lacey Act violations (See Gibson guitars); or with felony charges. In the federal system there is no discovery and you get penalized by harsher sentences if you fight the charges and go to trial and lose. Most folks who are not involved in the system have these naive notions that the federal justice system seeks justice and always does what's right; and that folks get fair trials. That's far from the truth. It's very political.

    So something to think about every time you see these plea agreements .... there are far too many innocent people who plea guilty cause they have no choice; they either don't have the funds to get the best lawyer to fight the case all the way through; or the risks of taking it to trial substantially outweigh the benefits.
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    I read this horror story and are coming down to Fort Desoto and a maybe other places in a couple of weeks, for the first time, and was wondering if other than obeying the signs posted within an area if I should be afraid of violating any laws. I sure don't need any fine or my equipment taken away. I was hoping for a very great vacation time photographing birds.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Lacy View Post
    David I was using the Ospreys as an example that being close to a animal will not automatically cause then to die of shock as some will have us believe.
    Exactly, but because of their Special Concern status, you can be well within the 500' radius (or is it 1/4-mile), not stressing the birds, and be in violation of the letter of the law. Most of us consider whether we're stressing the birds, and I'd be willing to bet that Jim was within that kind of logical guideline, but the letter of the law does not allow for using logic.

    I was within 200-ft of a bald eagle hunting perch and roosting site last evening. I was the only one there last night, but a few days earlier, people were literally standing under the perch and taking pictures with their P&S cameras. Historically, people have used the picnic tables under the roost, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of my raptor rescue friends didn't approach me and give me a ration of crap for putting myself in position to get a good fishing shot (didn't happen, alas). BTW, when I walked up, eagles were on the perch and I went away, eagles were still on the perch and an additional one or two had joined. I'm very clear that I wasn't stressing the birds, but that might not be good enough, if charges were brought.

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    I have found that those who scream the loudest about ethics are the ones raping the birds and wildlife when nobody is looking.
    That has not been my experience at all. In fact, I rarely hear anyone talking about ethical behavior in the context of birding or bird photography. Very few people seem to care about the issue.

    John

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy Stephens View Post
    I read this horror story and are coming down to Fort Desoto and a maybe other places in a couple of weeks, for the first time, and was wondering if other than obeying the signs posted within an area if I should be afraid of violating any laws. I sure don't need any fine or my equipment taken away. I was hoping for a very great vacation time photographing birds.
    I decided many years ago to simply avoid national parks, national monuments, or any other areas under the control of the national park service when doing wildlife photography. Under the letter of the law, almost anything done while taking wildlife photos can be construed as a "violation" by an overzealous park ranger....and a large percentage of them enforce the letter of the law, completely indifferent or ignorant of the "intent".

    Many years ago I was contacted by a national park service ranger driving through a desert park in the southwest. He saw that I had a flashlight in my car, and started browbeating me, stating it was illegal to possess an "artificial illumination device" in a national park. He said this was because poachers illegally hunt by spotlight at night. Well, I had no firearms in the car, no bow, no weapons of any kind. But the flashlight was enough for this guy to sternly lecture me for 20 minutes and threaten to cite me for having an "artificial illumination device". Again, I wasn't even using the light....I just had it in the car. Who would drive through a remote desert at night without one?

    That experience was an eye opener for me....I wonder what the penalty would have been had he cited me....for having a flashlight in my car at night.

    And I agree with Art. From what I have seen "talking the talk" about ethics and actually behaving ethically are two completely different things. And I have never really seen much of a connection between the two.
    Last edited by Bryan Munn; 03-01-2014 at 02:07 PM.

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    I don't know Jim, but by all accounts here, he is an honorable man, with nothing but regards for the wildlife he loves to photograph. Without turning this into a political debate, I do know that it wouldn't take much of a search to find many examples of what to me seems to be an out of control government, particularly at the federal level. It wouldn't take much to convince me that this another example.

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    Without turning this into a political debate...
    The phraseology used by several people in this thread has already turned the discussion into a political debate. Examples: "an out of control government"; "government gone amok"; "the feds start strong arming folks". These are overtly political phrases, and they reflect belief in a very specific ideology.

    John

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    Thanks John,
    The issue is Jim Neiger, and I am all for the defense of his actions for those who know the facts.
    Turning this into an anti -government rant is pretty disheartening for someone who enjoys this website.
    Sorry all you anti-government regulation "conservationists", Bald Eagles and the like don't recognize state lines and
    without bills like the Endangered Species act and federal enforcement through the years, we would not be photographing them…...

    I hope Jim gets his reputation back and gets back into the business he is good at.
    I also will continue to support laws that have worked to keep what species we have left in the world protected
    as well as possible.

    Unlike some I guess, my experience with federal wildlife officers has been positive and especially the National Park service employees.
    If yours differ, feel free to stay away, they are crowded enough.
    Last edited by dankearl; 03-01-2014 at 04:23 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Guastella View Post
    That has not been my experience at all. In fact, I rarely hear anyone talking about ethical behavior in the context of birding or bird photography. Very few people seem to care about the issue.

    John

    Hey John,

    Perhaps I have a bit more experience than you. I have seen it happen very often in the past 30+ years.

    As for nobody caring about the issue of field ethics in bird and nature photography, you need to subscribe to my blog and to the Bulletins. Most recently see this post: Jumping Monkeys; There's More to It Than Meets the Eye. See "Common Sense Photographic Ethics" in BAA Bulletin #305 here. See also Digital Manipulation and Nature Photography Competitions. And most importantly, you need to check out If You Photograph Nature, You Gotta Read This! (Field Etiquette for Nature Photographers). The latter article was published in Nature Photography Magazine a few years back.

    As I said above, we need to police ourselves and those who we see doing bad things in the field.
    Last edited by Arthur Morris; 03-01-2014 at 04:47 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dankearl View Post
    Thanks John,

    The issue is Jim Neiger, and I am all for the defense of his actions for those who know the facts. Turning this into an anti -government rant is pretty disheartening for someone who enjoys this website. Sorry all you anti-government regulation "conservationists", Bald Eagles and the like don't recognize state lines and without bills like the Endangered Species act and federal enforcement through the years, we would not be photographing them…...

    I hope Jim gets his reputation back and gets back into the business he is good at. I also will continue to support laws that have worked to keep what species we have left in the world protected
    as well as possible.

    Unlike some I guess, my experience with federal wildlife officers has been positive and especially the National Park service employees. If yours differ, feel free to stay away, they are crowded enough.
    Dan (and John in Pane 38). I disagree with you both but only 100% on the anti-government issues being brought up here. Please read or re-read Michael Pancier's comments in Pane 32. Don't get me wrong, I love living in the US and consider myself a proud American, but wrong is wrong.
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    I'm a big believer in free speech, and in civility. The expression of opinions should never be viewed as threatening to one's own views. And criticism of government is essential in a free society. "Wrong is wrong" as Arthur just said.

    When I made my comment above in pane 14, yesterday, I immediately received a private message from a member who lambasted me for being critical of field biologists: "you are totally ignorant of how field biologists work, what the process of science is all about, the role of research and science in conservation, the research permitting process, etc etc. I could go on."

    He then went on,to inquire as to my qualifications....to express publicly my opinion:

    "Do you have a B.Sc., M.Sc. or Ph.D. in wildlife science? Have you ever actually done any field research? "Seeing field biologists at work" does not qualify you to comment like you have."

    His concluding comments were most telling... " As far as Neiger is concerned, there is no smoke without fire IMO. I suppose OJ Simpson was innocent too?"

    The fact is, OJ was innocent...in the eyes of the court....and was thus acquitted. Doesn't mean they made the right decision.

    Politics comes into play in all levels of life..."political debate" is the essence of most human discussions...I don't see party politics entering into this discussion anywhere.

    As far as it becoming "anti-government" ...I'm not seeing any comments about building bunkers or not paying taxes or impeachment proceedings, so I think it's safe to assume the system isn't being threatened by radical bird photographers.

    Disagreeing with what happened to Jim and being suspicious of what motivated it is not the same thing AT ALL as calling for an end to the ESA or saying ethics aren't important.

    I would have much rather the person who sent me the private message had countered my comment in the public discussion, because I do believe that researchers and rules are important.

    Going to church does not make one an immediate candidate for sainthood, however....and that applies equally to biologists, government employees, and even photographers. From all accounts Jim is one of the good guys, as are a lot of photographers....and so are a lot of researchers and government employees...it would be nice if we all could work together with a little leeway and benefit of the doubt.

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    This situation is not about photography, nor about photographers... not about scientists banding birds (which, I too, am NOT a fan of!) nor about politics .... but as the story states, it is about violating a specific law within the ESA....repeatedly. Was harm done to the nesting birds? Possibly, but also, maybe not....We don't know. It doesn't matter what gear was on-board....not even if it was a pair of $10 binocs.... But because Jim is a respected photographer, the "photographer" part seems to have taken front row, unfortunately. (I am sure there are lots of details we don't know too.)

    As a former employee of a federal enforcement agency (not FWS), I can only say that our officers always acted with the utmost respect to potential violators and, frankly, knew that unless there was a rock solid case, it was SO much better to inform, educate and/or warn as opposed to resorting to legal action. (Can you tell I am a bit offended by the "Fed stereotyping" above?)
    Photographing threatened/endangered birds is certainly legal.

    Interfering with wildlife here in Michigan (there is a 100 yard "guideline", which is quite subjective unless you are photographed trying to run over waterfowl with a jet ski, or letting your dog eat the eggs of a nesting shorebird) is Poaching... period... and up to the State to enforce.
    Guess I'm saying, be aware of where you are, what you are doing and what the law is. It is our responsibility.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sandy Witvoet View Post
    This situation is not about photography, nor about photographers... not about scientists banding birds (which, I too, am NOT a fan of!) nor about politics .... but as the story states, it is about violating a specific law within the ESA....repeatedly.
    That's true, but because it seems Mr. Neiger was more or less forced to accept a plea deal, how do we know if he actually committed the offenses? In my personal experience, I've found USFW, Park Rangers, and our Canadian equivalents to be mostly dedicated, helpful, and fair. Mostly because I've personally not had an incident where I had a figurative gun at my head because doing today what I did yesterday is now a cause for losing my livelihood and freedom.

    What I really don't get is if he did in fact "repeatedly" violate the ESA, over a two year period...why no warnings? There is no mention of any in the accounts I've read. How concerned are they about the kites well-being that they let it continue for TWO YEARS?

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    Sandy, With all due respect, please read or re-read Attorney Michael Pancier's statement in Pane 32. Furthermore, if you witnessed a violation 7 or 8 times over the course of two years would you not have warned the person after the first alleged transgression? Furthermore, why choose to prosecute Jim Neiger when dozens of fisherman violate the 500 foot rule every day during the nesting season?

    There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Perhaps you can answer my questions. Respectfully.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dankearl View Post
    Thanks John,
    The issue is Jim Neiger, and I am all for the defense of his actions for those who know the facts.
    Turning this into an anti -government rant is pretty disheartening for someone who enjoys this website.
    Sorry all you anti-government regulation "conservationists", Bald Eagles and the like don't recognize state lines and
    without bills like the Endangered Species act and federal enforcement through the years, we would not be photographing them…...

    I hope Jim gets his reputation back and gets back into the business he is good at.
    I also will continue to support laws that have worked to keep what species we have left in the world protected
    as well as possible.

    Unlike some I guess, my experience with federal wildlife officers has been positive and especially the National Park service employees.
    If yours differ, feel free to stay away, they are crowded enough.
    Since I believe this was partly directed at me, allow me to comment.

    I am 100% in favor of the ESA. What I am against, is the arbitrary, hypocritical, and unreasonable ways in which it is often enforced, the bullying tactics often used in federal prosecutions against largely powerless defendants, and the completely ridiculous penalties that frequently result for arbitrary "grey area" violations. While I do not know Jim Neiger, nor am I familiar with what he did or didn't do, I suspect his case falls into most of these categories.

    Since you brought up the example, perhaps you could tell me what role photographers, "ethical" or otherwise, had in the endangered status of the bald eagle? Or perhaps you could name another species wherein photographers demonstrably impacted their status in any negative way? If you cannot, then how can the role of the federal government in what apparently happened to Jim Neiger not be brought into question? The case had to have been brought through multiple levels...the initial enforcement officers, the US Attorney, the judge/federal court system all apparently "rubber stamped" and precipitated the outcome in his case. And, this is not an isolated instance. So unless you believe that justice has been served here, questions about the actions of the federal justice system are inevitable.

    I am not "anti-government", but I believe there is nothing more unpatriotic than blindly supporting every action of our government, however ridiculous, just to avoid that label.

    I sincerely apologize if my take on this offended your sensibilities, or left you disheartened. I suppose it is debatable whether this sort of discussion belongs on a nature photography forum. It is however an issue that effects us all, at least potentially.

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    Turning this into an anti -government rant is pretty disheartening for someone who enjoys this website.
    I agree - hence my post in panel #38.

    Can you tell I am a bit offended by the "Fed stereotyping" above?
    As am I.

    John

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Guastella View Post
    The phraseology used by several people in this thread has already turned the discussion into a political debate. Examples: "an out of control government"; "government gone amok"; "the feds start strong arming folks". These are overtly political phrases, and they reflect belief in a very specific ideology.

    John
    John, The Neiger issue has very much to do with politics, government gone amok, and the Feds strong arming folks. So I do not at all understand what point you are trying to make.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryan Munn View Post
    Since I believe this was partly directed at me, allow me to comment.

    I am 100% in favor of the ESA. What I am against, is the arbitrary, hypocritical, and unreasonable ways in which it is often enforced, the bullying tactics often used in federal prosecutions against largely powerless defendants, and the completely ridiculous penalties that frequently result for arbitrary "grey area" violations. While I do not know Jim Neiger, nor am I familiar with what he did or didn't do, I suspect his case falls into most of these categories.

    Since you brought up the example, perhaps you could tell me what role photographers, "ethical" or otherwise, had in the endangered status of the bald eagle? Or perhaps you could name another species wherein photographers demonstrably impacted their status in any negative way? If you cannot, then how can the role of the federal government in what apparently happened to Jim Neiger not be brought into question? The case had to have been brought through multiple levels...the initial enforcement officers, the US Attorney, the judge/federal court system all apparently "rubber stamped" and precipitated the outcome in his case. And, this is not an isolated instance. So unless you believe that justice has been served here, questions about the actions of the federal justice system are inevitable.

    I am not "anti-government", but I believe there is nothing more unpatriotic than blindly supporting every action of our government, however ridiculous, just to avoid that label.

    I sincerely apologize if my take on this offended your sensibilities, or left you disheartened. I suppose it is debatable whether this sort of discussion belongs on a nature photography forum. It is however an issue that effects us all, at least potentially.
    Thanks Bryan. I obviously agree with you 100%. Thanks for posting.
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    Perhaps I have a bit more experience than you.
    My experience is with the photographers I see at the wildlife sanctuaries I regularly shoot in here in Orange County, California, where I live. The behavior of many of those photographers is highly disrespectful of the rules and regulations, and of the wildlife in general. In fact, it's gotten so bad that, if I see a group of photographers at a particular shooting site, I will simply leave rather than allow myself to be associated with them.

    John

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