FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks man was fined $1,125 Wednesday after pleading guilty in Fairbanks federal court to shooting and killing a raven at the Lakeview Terrace trailer park last year.
Jerry L. Himebauch, 60, was charged with the unlawful taking of a migratory bird after an investigation by the Fairbanks office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ravens are on the list of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and it is a federal crime to kill them.
A total of 25 dead ravens were discovered during a five-month period, but Himebauch was only charged with the death of one raven because the evidence was strongest for that killing, according to Special Agent Ryan Cote.
Cote said he started working the case in late 2014 after someone brought him the bodies of several dead ravens they found at the south Fairbanks trailer park. Cote documented the incident and drove through the neighborhood but didn’t think much of it until an injured raven was reported several days later. He captured the bird but it had to be euthanized because of the severity of its injuries.
It was when Cote got another report of a dead raven about a week later that he started to become concerned.
“When this number (of dead birds) becomes five or six, then it takes a little bit more attention,” Cote said. “I began working the case, and I felt like I was working a homicide case. We used to joke that we had a serial killer out there,” Cote said.
Cote, a former Army Criminal Investigative Division agent, canvassed the neighborhood and asked people to call him if they saw anything.
“During the course of my investigation I found that a lot of people were actually on the ravens’ side. As I did canvas interviews they were like, ‘Oh my goodness, why would someone do that? I like ravens!’” Cote said.
Ravens are ubiquitous in Alaska and play large roles in Alaska Native lore. Ravens and other corvids such as magpies, crows and jays have a wide range of vocalizations and are thought to be as intelligent as chimpanzees and gorillas, according to National Geographic. Many people consider it bad luck to kill a raven.
Cote set up surveillance cameras after determining the raven shootings were “pretty much isolated to this one community.” He was able to establish a suspect after viewing footage was taken at a Lakeview Drive address two days before a dead raven was found in the home’s side yard.
The footage showed a white pickup drive slowly up the road, stop at the base of the home’s driveway and drive off again after a gunshot is heard.
Cote found the same truck parked at Himebauch’s Lakeview Terrace Drive mobile home a day later and went undercover to speak to him.
While discussing the ravens in the area, Himebauch pointed in the general direction of Lakeview Drive and said, “You can go around that end and you can usually pick off a couple of them a day,” according to a probable cause statement prepared by Cote.
Himebauch also said the raven population should be thinned and said “You eventually just get so damn many of them they’re just like the seagulls. God there’s a lot of them bastards,” according to the statement.
Cote said it’s likely so many ravens were in the Lakeview area because there is a landfill nearby.
The white truck in Himebauch’s driveway belonged to his employer, who confirmed Himebauch was the only person driving it at the time the raven carcass was found. In a later interview, Himebauch admitted to carrying his .22 caliber rifle in his work truck, according to the statement.
The 25 raven carcasses were sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, for necropsies. The lab is the only one in the world dedicated to crimes against wildlife.
Himebauch was charged with killing Raven 20, the bird found at the Lakeview Drive home March 31, 2015, but “we agreed he would pay a fine for two because the facts say he killed two,” according to U.S. Attorney Stephen Cooper.
The fine for killing a federally protected bird is $500. Himebauch’s fine included a $25 processing fee and a $10 special assessment fee.
Himebauch has since moved from the neighborhood and no new raven deaths have been reported.
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