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NH loon shooter could face $250K fine

PITTSBURG — State Fish and Game officials are asking for the public's help in solving what one officer called the blatant and intentional shooting of a loon on Back Lake in the state's northernmost town.

&#';I've been on Pittsburg patrol for 13 years, and have never dealt with a case of a loon that's been positively X-rayed with shotgun pellets inside of it,&#'; Conservation Officer Christopher Egan said Monday night. &#';This was not a hunting-related accident. This was someone who blatantly pulled the trigger on a protected bird. They knew exactly what they were doing.&#';

A lakeside resident noticed that the loon was in distress and notified Fish and Game early last week. The Loon Preservation Committee, based in Moultonborough, had the bird taken to Whitefield Animal Hospital, where X-rays revealed dozens of shotgun pellets embedded throughout the bird's body, including its head and neck.

&#';With a poor prognosis for recovery, the bird was transported to a wildlife rehabilitator in Bridgton, Maine,&#'; according to a Fish and Game news release. &#';Ultimately, the decision was made to euthanize the bird several days later due to the severity of its injuries.&#';

In addition to being protected by state law, loons are also federally protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which covers loons and all migratory non-game birds. The shooter could face state charges of &#';taking of protected species with no open season,&#'; a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $2,000 and a year in jail.

Federal authorities could impose a fine of up to $250,000, Egan said. In addition, a court could order some form of restitution.

&#';We would most likely be asked to make a sentencing recommendation, and it would be a steep one,&#'; Egan said.

Officials believe the shooting took place on or near Back Lake, sometime during early to mid-August, which is closed season even for legal waterfowl.

Loon shootings may be rare, but the bird faces a more common threat from ingestion of lead fishing tackle, which is illegal in New Hampshire unless it is too large for the loon to consume. The X-rays of the Back Lake loon showed numerous pieces of fishing tackle in the bird's gizzard, as well as the shotgun pellets.

The shores of Back Lake are dotted with summer homes, and the state stocks the lake each year with 11,000 fish, according to Egan. He speculated that the loon may have been shot by an angry fisherman who had a good catch grabbed by one of the birds.

&#';Loons can sometimes take a fish right off someone's line when they are reeling it in,&#'; said Egan. &#';Someone was maybe upset that the loon was a better fisher than they were.&#';

A heavy, goose-sized water bird ranging from 28 to 36 inches long, the common loon has a wingspan of five feet and eerie nighttime calls made famous in the classic &#';On Golden Pond,&#'; filmed on Squam Lake in Holderness more than 30 years ago.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to contact the state Fish and Game Department Law Enforcement Division at 800-344-4262. Violations can also be reported at WildNH.com/OGT. Fish and game officials say confidentiality is guaranteed and rewards are paid for tips leading to an arrest or citation.

dsolomon@unionleader.com

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