Ex-waterfowl group president sentenced for duck baiting

BOISE, Idaho (AP) An Idaho man who once was the local leader of a national group dedicated to conserving ducks is being punished for using illegal methods to hunt them.

Charles D. Steele of Hagerman was sentenced Monday to a year of supervised probation, a $2,000 fine and 25 hours of community service in U.S. District Court. While on probation, Steele is also forbidden to hunt in the United States.

The 48-year-old Steele is the former volunteer president of the Hagerman chapter of Ducks Unlimited, whose motto is "filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever."

But on Sept. 25, he pleaded guilty to violating federal bird-protection laws by baiting ducks by placing corn on private farmland near Gooding to attract waterfowl and enhance hunting opportunities.

Efforts to reach Steele on Monday were unsuccessful; his phone number in Hagerman was disconnected.

However, Idaho Ducks Unlimited leaders said their group condemns Steele's hunting tactics, not only as a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act but also the ethics of fair-chase that govern hunting.

Mond Warren, the group's regional director in Nampa, called corn baiting akin to using salt to lure big game such as elk nearer to hunters' scopes.

"We have a zero tolerance for any type of game violation," Warren said. "It's a very stringent policy, there's no wavering on it. Our job is waterfowl conservation and wetland conservation."

Warren said Steele resigned from Ducks Unlimited about a year ago, but wasn't sure if it was before or after he was cited on Jan. 12.

On that date, Steele and two companions were hunting from a duck blind near where he'd strewn large quantities of whole corn, prosecutors said.

"The defendant knowingly spread whole corn that he knew would attract ducks and geese to the area in anticipation of enhancing hunting opportunities for himself and others," according to federal court documents. "Law enforcement personnel observed the defendant shoot at several ducks over the baited area."

The two people who were with Steele at the time so far haven't been charged, said Pamela Bearg, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Boise. She declined to say if the agency planned to eventually charge them.

Steele has been in trouble with authorities before.

He was convicted in 2000 on drug possession and assault charges.

In addition, he was arrested the following year in a second-degree kidnapping and assault case. He eventually pleaded guilty to violating a domestic violence protective order as part of a plea deal.