How much is that whooping crane worth in the wild? The one with the shotgun pellets in its body?
Today, on the sixth anniversary of the Senate-approved Endangered Species Day, it's a good question to ask.
Unfortunately, it isn't much. A pittance, in fact.
Just $1. Yes, you read right, $1. Four quarters, 10 dimes.
Less than what many people will find when they only casually check between the cushions in their couch.
This particular whooping crane -- one of only about 400 left in the wild -- was killed in 2009, but it wasn't until March that the adult and juvenile responsible for the death pleaded guilty and were sentenced in the case.
But, oh boy, was it ever a sentence.
The adult, 18 at the time the crane was shot, received probation, a fine and court costs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 30 days later, announced a citizen's tip was responsible for bringing the case surrounding the death to an end.
Unfortunately, it seems the adult only received a year in jail -- suspended, of course. The $1 fine, and court costs amounting to $334.50. Because the other person -- considered the primary person in the case -- was a juvenile, they wouldn't even talk about what he got.
You can only assume it was a pittance as well.
Now for the slap in the face.
"Our investigators coordinate closely with the judicial system in an effort to secure the most appropriate penalties for the commission of crimes against wildlife and natural resources," noted USFWS Midwest Region Assistant Special Agent in Charge Andy Buhl.
He noted? Oh, please.
The Indiana prosecutor, reeling from the stinging criticism, went so far as to post a statement online, detailing how a FWS representative was present at all court hearings.
"At no time were we ever advised that these cases were being handled inappropriately," the prosecutor said.
Apparently, he's not smart enough to recognize something like that.
In fact, he said his office was told the crane might be valued at closer to $100,000, but couldn't figure out who might be entitled to the restitution. So, in a nutshell, he shrugged it off, suggesting a civil lawsuit might be the way to go.
Let's see, a public prosecutor blowing off his responsibility to the public so a public agency can sue for damages.
FWS just tried to cover it all up.
Ironically, while the federal wildlife agency ballyhooed the citizen tip, danced all around the $10,000 reward -- $2,500 of it offered by the agency -- that was being offered in this case.
And yes, the person who provided the tip is in line to get the reward.
The $1 fine won't quite cover the reward.
It certainly won't cover the more than $2.5 million spent in 2009 trying to recover the species. Of course, if it can't cover the cost of a year's efforts, it won't cover the $1.1 billion that has been spent since efforts started.
Suffice it to say, we've got a system that's broken.
Our illustrious Fish and Wildlife Service needs to grow a backbone and prosecute these cases.
In Kansas, where we've had three whooping crane deaths, we need to alter some seasons to ensure the safety of the birds when they migrate through the state.
Still, remember this is Endangered Species Day.
Try for a moment to forget the Senate also approved legislation stripping protection for the Rocky Mountain gray wolf.
Sure, it's hypocritical, but consider who we're talking about.