LIHUE — A part-time Koloa resident was ordered Tuesday to pay more than $40,000 in fines for shooting endangered nene.
Steven Cookson, 72, was convicted of five misdemeanor state charges of taking an endangered or threatened species.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Department of Land and Natural Resources investigation revealed Cookson killed four nene with a pellet gun on Feb. 7, 2017, and attempted to kill another nene near his residence in the Kukuiula subdivision the next day.
“The protection of our threatened and endangered species is an important part of our mission,” said Justin Kollar, county prosecuting attorney.
Cookson pleaded no contest to each charge in the Environmental Court complaint. For the first four counts, Cookson was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $155 in fees for each count. For the fifth count, Cookson was ordered to pay $155 in fees, for a total of $40,775.
In January, The Garden Island reported allegations about the nene shootings when the case was turned over to Kauai prosecutors after a USFWS investigation.
Carroll Cox, an environmental activist and former USFWS agent, told TGI in that report that Cookson was aware of the nene’s endangered status.
“The information we received initially is he was told to leave them alone, they are endangered,” Cox said.
Cookson’s attorney, Michael Green, said Thursday his client just wanted to scare the birds that were defecating in his pool, yard and walkway. Green says Cookson “didn’t know a duck from a nene.”
Green says his client “humbly apologizes” to the people of Hawaii and would never hurt an endangered animal.
Only found in Hawaii, the native geese are listed as endangered with an estimated population of 1,200 remaining on Kauai and an estimated 3,000 birds statewide, according to DLNR.
The population was whittled down statewide to only about 50 birds in the mid 1940s, and efforts in predator control and captive breeding have helped boost the population.
Highways are usually the most dangerous places for nene on Kauai, and in the past four years more than 60 birds have been struck and killed by cars.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Anthony Herndon prosecuted the case. Judge Robert Goldberg handed down the sentence.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.