October 24, 2014

Prosecutors: Raptors killed in Jasper County to help quail hunts

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

Red-Tailed Hawk (Image: SCDNR)

A Jasper County hunting preserve has agreed to pay a quarter-million dollars after three of its employees were sentenced for illegally trapping and killing more than 30 federally-protected raptors.

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that the MacKay Point Plantation in Yemassee would pay $250,000 in restitution to several animal charities in the area. The announcement came as 8,000-acre preserve’s general manager 59-year-old William Martin and two other employees pleaded guilty to killing the birds of prey in order to reduce predators for the site’s annual quail hunts.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to unscrupulous hunters and landowners who think they are above the law,” U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a statement, adding that killing birds of prey to improve quail hunts has become a “widespread” problem in the Southeast.

Prosecutors say Martin, 54-year-Keith Gebhardt, and 63-year-old Mark Argetsinger were each sentenced to six months probation, community service, and fine. All three will also be banned from trapping animals for  year. Argetsinger is a Beaufort native, while Martin and Gebhardt live in Yemassee.

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Report: Coyote population may be “levelling off” in SC

Image: SCDNR

Image: SCDNR

Coyote sightings have become more much frequent in South Carolina in the past three decades, but state wildlife officials say the number appears to be leveling off.

The State newspaper reported Wednesday that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources counted more than 30,000 coyotes killed by hunters last year. The agency notes that number has stayed between 28,000 and 32,000 each of the past five years after growing exponentially since the 1990s.

DNR staffers say coyotes have been in South Carolina since the 1970s, when they were brought in to help train hunting dogs. With no predators, they have since spread to every county in the state. The agency blaming them for 80 percent of deer fawn deaths. But the agency says the animals are likely here to stay.

State legislators eased hunting restrictions against coyotes, wild hogs, and armadillos in 2012. DNR has also been encouraging deer hunters to shoot coyotes they come across.

New proposal would allow rangers to hunt wild hogs at Congaree

Image courtesy: Clemson University

Image courtesy: Clemson University

A draft proposal revealed Monday would allow rangers at Congaree National Park to take more drastic steps — including hunting with high-powered rifles — to tackle what they say is a worsening wild hog problem in the wilderness outside Columbia.

The National Park Service is currently seeking public comment on a new management plan for the non-native wild pigs, which park officials say are destroying native plants and longleaf pine habitats. The lack of predators and quick reproduction rate have allowed the hog population to skyrocket.

“The damage that’s being done to the natural resources, not to even mention the archaeological resources that are being turned up by the pigs rooting around, is a real problem,” the park’s Acting Chief of Integrated Resource Management Steven Kidd told South Carolina Radio Network. “The park has an obligation to protect these resources.”

In the past, the park has relied on a limited effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to trap and shoot hogs in select areas. The new proposal will now allow park rangers to actively shoot the animals and place traps in more inaccessible regions of the park’s roughly 26,500 acres.

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Anderson man sentenced for releasing asbestos while demolishing mill

An Anderson man was sentenced to more than three years in prison after prosecutors say he continued to demolish an old mill despite knowing the building contained hazardous levels of asbestos.

37-year-old Scott Farmer was sentenced Tuesday to 41 months in prison and three years supervised release after earlier pleading guilty to knowing endangerment by release of asbestos.

Prosecutors said Farmer and his employees were working on demolished portions of Haynsworth Mill in Anderson between November 2012 and April 2013 in order to sell scrap metal from the building. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental said it repeatedly warned Farmer to stop work on the building because of the asbestos, which have been linked to cancer. However, investigators said Farmer continued to do the work without setting up safeguards for his employees or customers who bought the scrap metal.

In March 2013, DHEC issued an emergency order against Farmer to cease all activities on the site due to the hazardous levels of asbestos. But inspectors said they caught Farmer doing more demolition work on the site a month later.

“Exposure to asbestos can cause serious health problems and in some cases may prove fatal,” Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in South Carolina, said in a statement. “The defendant’s actions threatened not only the environment but the safety of his workers and the surrounding community.”

The former cotton mill was built in 1948 and operated in the heart of Anderson until its closure in 1996, according to research by the Greenville Textile Heritage Society.


Corps of Engineers going after tree-clearing along Lake Hartwell

Lake Hartwell (SCDNR)

Lake Hartwell (SCDNR)

Some property owners who live along Lake Hartwell have been told they could lose the ability to keep docks on the property if they don’t stop illegally clearing brush and trees on the shore.

The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the large lake along South Carolina’s northwest border with Georgia and owns a thin “collar” of land that rings the water’s edge. The public land goes about 50-100 feet inland from the shoreline. Lakefront property must obtain a permit before clearing brush inside that collar.

But Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said there has been an “unprecedented” increase this summer of landowners either going beyond the scope of their permit or removing brush and trees without approval.

“They wouldn’t think about going over to their neighbor on the left or the right and cutting down tree or brush on their property,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But they think nothing about going onto public property that they do not own and doing the same thing.”

He said the natural growth along the lake is there for several reasons: it helps keep runoff from flowing freely into the water, can slow erosion, and creates a natural habitat for animals.

“We have the trees and brush going there for a reason,” he said.

Birdwell said property owners who did not realize their mistake usually agree to voluntary compliance, meaning they must allow the brush to grow back. However, repeat or particular severe offenders risk having their permits revoked, including a separate permit that allows them to keep a boat dock along the lake. They could also face stiff fines.

Birdwell said the Corps has only revoked six permits in the 50 years the agency has maintained the lake. but adds up to seven landowners are currently under investigation and could lose the permits this summer. A majority are on the South Carolina side, which is more developed than Georgia’s end of the lake.

Lake Hartwell has the largest shoreline management program of any Corps of Engineers’ lake in the nation. Fifty percent of its shoreline is zoned for limited private development, such as a boat dock or access walkway.