James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

A Plevna-area rancher admitted Tuesday that he killed a bald eagle by illegally using a pesticide.

Dale Duwayne Buerkle, 66, pleaded guilty to the unlawful taking of a bald eagle during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Billings.

A plea agreement calls for two other counts, including unlawful taking of a migratory bird, a hawk, and unlawful use of a registered pesticide, to be dismissed at sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan said that in March 2016, landowners near Buerkle’s property notified a warden with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks that they had found a dead bald eagle on their property.

The warden retrieved the eagle carcass and also three coyote carcasses. The warden noticed that across the property line, on Buerkle’s land, was a calf carcass about 20 yards from where the first coyote was found, Sullivan said.

The next month, the landowners found a dead hawk in the same pasture where the dead coyotes were recovered.

Toxicology tests on the carcasses of the bald eagle, the coyotes and hawks, along with tests of a calf carcass, bugs and soil samples, all were positive for carbofuran, a pesticide, Sullivan said.

The landowner denied using carbofuran.

In an interview with an FWP warden, Buerkle admitted he injected carbofuran into the stomach of two calves, Sullivan said. Buerkle admitted he knew that using the pesticide was illegal but had “no clue that it killed birds,” he said. Buerkle also admitted he knew the poison was not selective.

Buerkle gave his remaining carbofuran to the FWP warden and said he put out the calf carcasses at the end of February or early March.

The plea deal calls for the prosecution to recommend one year of probation and payment of $1,000 restitution.

Buerkle faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan set sentencing for Nov. 16.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.