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 totaling $35,000.

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 acres.

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.


Release #: R97-96

1997 News Releases

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