Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
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Wisconsin Game Farm Owner Sentenced
for Commercializing Migratory Birds

A Wisconsin game farm owner is now a felon due to his illegal commercialization of snow geese. United States Attorney James L. Santelle, announced that on October 20, 2014, Todd David Doughty, age 50, owner of the “Thunderbird Game Farm” in Chilton, Wisconsin, was sentenced to five years probation, ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, and had his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for five years by Chief United States District Court Judge William C. Griesbach.

Long-eared owl courtesy of Steve Gifford.
Long-eared owl. Photo courtesy of Steve Gifford.

According to the plea agreement and other documents filed with the court, Doughty illegally engaged in the sale of sausage containing snow goose, a migratory bird. While sentencing the defendant, Chief Judge Griesbach noted a litany of past wildlife offenses which, “spoke to the defendant’s character” and his “disregard for wildlife laws” which necessitated the lengthy revocation of hunting privileges. As a convicted felon, Doughty will never again legally possess a firearm for any purpose.

As with many wildlife offenders like Doughty, there is a backstory and there are years of illegal behavior factored into a given court proceeding. In this case, Doughty implicated himself by inadvertently tipping off investigators through side activities related to his game farm operation and lodge in Wisconsin. The larger U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation started because of some concerned members of the public and the follow up of game wardens in Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kansas.

“This case is an example of a best case scenario, where engaged citizens and conservation agencies from multiple states work together with our partners in federal wildlife conservation law enforcement,” noted Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Chief Warden Todd Schaller.

In 2007, local game wardens from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources followed up on a couple strange reports of dead owls found along the road in a garbage bag. Wardens reached out to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent and turned over 13 dead long-eared owls that appeared to have been shot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, based in Ashland, Oregon, analyzed the owls and determined the cause of death to be birdshot, the type of ammunition commonly used in pheasant hunting. The agent on the case noticed that Thunderbird Game Farm was just down the road from the places where the dead owls were first found. After combining that evidence with information received from other states, the Service began an undercover operation to learn more about Doughty and his game farm operation. The agent, with the assistance of the Wisconsin Conservation Wardens, uncovered an illegal operation built around commercializing snow geese, white-tailed deer and other waterfowl as processed sausage at Doughty's lodge.

“Congress directed us to stop systematic decimation of bird populations back in the early 1900s, because they saw the consequences of this kind of greed on a nationwide scale. While we are disheartened that people like Doughty are continuing this behavior, we are pleased to have stopped him,” said Pat Lund, Resident Agent in Charge for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri.

As for the original illegal activity that first alerted the public and state game wardens, the undercover elements of this investigation went on to document Doughty’s statements that showed that he routinely shot owls, hawks and other predators that he found at his captive pheasant hunting lodge. His predator control measures were extensive and illegal.

This case was investigated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Daniel R. Humble.

By Tina Shaw
Regional Office - External Affairs


Last updated: November 5, 2014