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.
According to court documents, the men helped stock the private plantation with approximately 6,000 quail each year for the owners to hunt. In order to improve the quail hunting, Martin, Gebhardt, and Argetsinger placed dozens of baited, steel traps to kill native Red-Tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls. These hawks and owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be killed without a permit.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said it became aware of the trapping after a confidential tip. A DNR officer then found a dead hawk near the river bank on the plantation. The agency worked with Fish and Wildlife Service agents to install cameras on the plantation over a two-year period. Investigators said the surveillance footage shows Argetsinger and Gebhardt trapping and shooting more than 30 hawks and owls. The trapping and killing occurred only during quail season.
Investigators executed a warrant in February 2014 and found more traps and dead raptors, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors say there is no evidence the preserve’s other employees and owners were involved in the trio’s actions. The $250,000.00 in community restitution is one of the largest financial penalties in the history of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The private preserve is only open to the plantation’s owners, family, and guests. The Charleston Post & Courier reports then-Vice President Dick Cheney was invited to hunt at MacKay Point in 2004.