A father and son who operate a large potato farm in northern Wisconsin have agreed to pay $100,000 in restitution in connection with the poisoning deaths of more than 70 wild animals, including at least two bald eagles.
Alvin C. Sowinski, 65, and Paul A. Sowinski, 46, of the Town of Sugar Camp, also face penalties of up to $100,000 each and up to a year in prison at their sentencing in May, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the western district in Madison.
According to documents filed by prosecutors, Alvin Sowinski used poisoned bait piles to try to kill predators such as coyotes and gray wolves.
There was no evidence that wolves, a federally protected animal at the time of the investigation, were poisoned.
The two men also permitted hunters and trappers to kill predators to improve hunting for penned pheasants, grouse and deer for the Sowinskis and friends.
One such hunter and trapper was an undercover officer of the state Department of Natural Resources, who was told by Alvin Sowinski how he used poison to target predators.
While poisoning of wildlife is known to occur throughout the state, prosecution of such cases are “extremely rare,” according to U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil, who said his office has prosecuted only one or two cases in the past 30 years.
Among the wildlife poisoned with pesticides by the Sowinskis between 2007 and 2010 were at least two bald eagles, a turkey vulture, nine coyotes, one bobcat, three ermine, crows, songbirds, squirrels, skunks and other unidentified animals.
Vaudreuil called the acts “incredibly selfish” for someone to “purposefully want to kill predators, and then they use this very horrible pesticide.”
The Sowinski family owns about 8,000 acres in Oneida County, with about 4,000 acres consisting of an active farming operation.
According to the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Sowinski Farms Inc. is headquartered in Rhinelander.
The investigation began in May 2007 when a DNR warden found dead animals on the property, including a bald eagle.
A dead deer in a bait pile contained carbofuran, a highly toxic insecticide, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory concluded.
Then in 2010, law enforcement personnel found at least nine poisoned bait piles of white-tailed deer, beaver and processed meats placed by Alvin Sowinski on the property.
Dozens of dead wildlife were found nearby, according to records.
The son was aware that his father was setting up poisoned bait sites.
A video camera set up by law enforcement showed Paul, accompanied by a son and teenage nephew, driving an ATV and finding a dead eagle. Paul Sowinski tossed it into the brush.
He returned later, picked up the eagle and tossed it into a burn pile.
Distributed by McClatchy/Tribune