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James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

An Eastern Montana rancher who admitted killing a bald eagle through a pesticide-poisoned calf carcass was sentenced to probation in Billings on Thursday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan sentenced Dale Duwayne Buerkle, 66, to one year probation, fined him $1,000 and ordered $1,000 restitution.

Buerkle pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor count of unlawful taking of a bald eagle.

Cavan dismissed two other counts under the terms of a plea agreement.

Buerkle told the judge he “took full responsibility” for the eagle’s death.

Cavan noted that while Buerkle’s actions were unlawful, he did not intentionally try to kill a bald eagle. He also had no criminal record.

In 2016, coyotes were killing Buerkle’s calves, costing him about $20,000, the judge said. Buerkle learned from others about injecting carcasses with poison to kill coyotes, he said. Buerkle’s actions killed three coyotes along with an eagle and a hawk.

Prosecutors said an investigation into a bald eagle carcass found on a landowner’s property led to Buerkle, who admitted to injecting carbofuran into two calf carcasses to kill coyotes.

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When questioned, Buerkle admitted he knew using the pesticide was illegal but that he didn’t know it would kill birds. He also admitted knowing the poison was not selective, prosecutors said.

Buerkle’s attorney, Albert R. Batterman of Baker, recommended 90 days to six months of probation along with a fine and restitution.

“He screwed up. He wants to put this behind him. You are not going to see this man again,” Batterman said.

Prosecutor Tom Godfrey recommended probation, a $1,000 fine and $1,000 restitution. While the government takes the deaths of bald eagles seriously, Buerkle took responsibility, cooperated and had no criminal record, he said.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.