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Missing tags on waterfowl earn fine

'Chicken man' was busted in sting

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An Arborg man has been convicted of possessing and transporting waterfowl carcasses without tags.

BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN FILES Enlarge Image

An Arborg man has been convicted of possessing and transporting waterfowl carcasses without tags.

An Arborg man saw his goose cooked in court Thursday as a judge convicted him for his small role in a hush-hush international investigation into bird-hunting practices in Manitoba.

Provincial court Judge John Guy found Douglas Ager, 56, guilty Thursday of several infractions under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Ager was convicted of possessing and transporting Canada goose and other waterfowl carcasses without having tags attached to identify who hunted them and their hunting licence number.

The tag requirement is mandatory under the convention's regulations.

Breaching it is considered a "strict liability" offence, meaning intent doesn't factor into assessment of guilt or innocence.

Ager's case saw details of what was dubbed Operation Bluegrass Branth revealed publicly for the first time.

The project was a joint undercover probe by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Manitoba Conservation and Environment Canada.

In March 2010, the Canadian agencies reached out to U.S. counterparts for help investigating a Manitoba hunting guide, Craig Littlepage.

'Inside the garage were hundreds of birds. There were piles of birds laying on the floor. There was a tractor wagon that was just full and piled over' -- officer Erryl Wolgemuth

Officials suspect he violated wildlife laws, Guy was told.

By October that year, two FWS officers came to Canada and posed undercover as American duck hunters in an effort to gather evidence.

They were granted immunity to breach the convention so their cover wouldn't be blown, court heard.

Officer Erryl Wolgemuth testified he and another undercover agent, John Rayfield, hired Littlepage, of Stony Mountain-based Goosemasters Legendary Hunts, as their guide.

They and a few others were taken hunting for ducks and geese, and the numerous birds they killed were loaded in the back of Littlepage's truck.

The birds -- plus about 60 others shot the night before -- were then driven to Ager's property nearby for cleaning and processing, said Wolgemuth.

Littlepage referred to Ager as "the chicken man" and his garage "the butchershop," Guy was told.

No attempt was made to properly tag the birds as required, the officer said.

"Inside the garage were hundreds of birds. There were piles of birds laying on the floor," Wolgemuth testified.

"There was a tractor wagon that was just full and piled over (with) birds that had already been cleaned," he said.

Ager turned up the next day at Littlepage's hunting lodge to transfer birds to the undercover agents, who were ending their stay.

He took processed fowl from clear plastic bags in his trunk and put them into a cooler, Rayfield testified.

"There were no tags or any kind of description of what was in those bags," the officer said, adding he paid Ager $70 for the processing work.

Ager, who represented himself, testified on his own behalf and denied responsibility for the infractions.

According to Ager's version, tags for the hunted fowl were provided to him.

But, he said, they were put on a table in his garage and not attached to the carcasses.

He also said he brought the tags at the delivery but put them in his pocket.

"As far as I'm concerned... I was set up on this," he told Guy. "I may be guilty of being too friendly and too generous and too understanding."

He argued the legal requirement to tag the birds fell to those who shot them.

"The onus should be on the hunter, not on me," Ager said. "I'm providing a service."

"Having a bunch of tags in my pocket does not satisfy the legislation," Guy told him. "Your pocket is not the carcass."

Guy fined him $3,750 -- money that will go to Environment Canada's Environmental Damages Fund.

Littlepage, 38, is due in court Monday for the start of a lengthy trial.

He faces charges under the Wildlife Act, the migratory birds convention and Resource Tourism Operators Act.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2014 A8

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