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Hunter Pleads Guilty in Killing of Condor

Times Staff Writer

A Kern County man pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to killing a California condor during a pig hunt in February at Tejon Ranch near Bakersfield.

Britton Cole Lewis, 29, of Tehachapi pleaded guilty to violating a federal law protecting migratory birds. In a separate matter, he also pleaded guilty to a charge of illegally shooting a whitetail deer in Illinois and transporting its mounted head to California. Both are misdemeanors.

Lewis will be sentenced Aug. 15, according to officials with the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento. He faces up to six months in prison and a fine of $15,000 for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Kurt Stiefler, Lewis’ attorney, declined to comment.

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Assistant U.S. Atty. E. Robert Wright, the prosecutor in the case, said no deals were struck before the defendant’s arraignment Wednesday in federal court in Fresno.

Although killing a condor is illegal under the Endangered Species Act, Lewis was not charged under that more stringent law because of a loophole created by a 1998 Justice Department policy requiring that a defendant know the creature in question was endangered. The act carries a more serious penalty: up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

With wing spans up to 10 feet, California condors are the largest birds in North America and one of the rarest birds in the world. Only 80 remain in the wild.

The shooting has attracted national attention because the victim, Adult Condor 8, or AC-8, was one of the original participants in a $35-million captive-breeding program aimed at preventing the creatures’ extinction.

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When AC-8 was found dead Feb. 13 at Tejon Ranch in Kern County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched an investigation, with help from the California Department of Fish and Game.

Lewis, who acknowledged in court Wednesday that he shot the bird while it was perched in a tree, was charged April 29.

Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that a condor chick recently hatched in the wild in a nest near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in northern Ventura County.

The newborn chick was spotted Saturday.

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