|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 31, 1997
|Diana M. Hawkins or
Vicki M. Boatwright
After a Florida citrus grower pled guilty to charges that his land-clearing operations
had resulted in the "taking" of threatened Florida scrub jays, a violation of
the Endangered Species Act, United States Magistrate Judge Frank J. Lynch today sentenced
William Jeff Worley of Lake Placid, to 6 months probation and fines and restitution
The Endangered Species Act defines the term "take" to mean to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect endangered or threatened species or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.
Worley pled guilty to one charge of the indictment; i.e., that between March and July
1996, he "took" Florida scrub jays as a result of his land clearing operations
that destroyed approximately 464 acres of scrub oak habitat occupied at the time by as
many as 80 birds, including 13 breeding pairs with young fledglings.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Regional Director, Sam D.
Hamilton, Service law enforcement agents notified the defendant in March 1996 that his
clearing operations of 264 acres in Highlands County would result in death or injury to
resident Florida scrub jays and that to continue further clearing without a habitat
conservation plan in place would constitute a violation of the law. Hamilton said that
Worley ignored these and later warnings, and in July 1996, he cleared an additional 200
At this juncture, the Service could have arrested the defendant and seized his
land-clearing equipment, Hamilton said. Instead, the Service offered Worley a number of
opportunities to continue his operations legally before it sought further injunctive
relief. He noted that Worley's continued clearing of scrub jay habitat in spite of
repeated attempts to persuade him to carry out his activities within the law, left the
Service and the Department of Justice with no alternative but to obtain a court injunction
ordering him to stop his clearing activities.
According to Thomas E. Scott, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the
Government went to extreme lengths to ensure Worley's case was handled fairly. Bringing
the case before an impartial grand jury composed of area residents to determine if a crime
had been committed is an unusual procedure in such a case, Scott said.
The Florida scrub jay can be found in isolated pockets of scrub oak on the Lake Wales
Ridge, along Florida's east and west coasts and in the Ocala National Forest. The birds
live in tightly-knit family groups, only in areas where one or more species of scrub oaks
occur. Its numbers have been reduced significantly in recent decades, and today the bird
no longer survives in 40 percent of its historical range. This species is federally listed
as threatened due to loss of habitat.
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Release #: R97-96
1997 News Releases