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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 28, 2013

Girl had to pay $500 federal criminal fine for rescuing woodpecker, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner says

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner went on national TV on May 9, 2013, to talk up the Over-Criminalization Task Force, a new venture praised by groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Heritage Foundation.  

Supporters say the work of the panel, created by the House Judiciary Committee, could lead to a reduction in federal regulations and a reduced federal prison population.

Sensenbrenner, one of the two co-chairmen of the task force, told the Rev. Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club" that some of the roughly 4,500 federal crimes now on the books need to be eliminated.

Then the Wisconsin Republican illustrated his point with this claim:

"I think the FBI has got much better things to do, for example, than investigate an 11-year-old girl that ended up having to pay a $500 criminal fine because she found an injured woodpecker and put it in a cage to make sure that the bird was OK and that violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act."

That got high marks on our curiosity meter.

But how does Sensenbrenner’s claim fare on the Truth-O-Meter?

Woodpecker case

We found news accounts and a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describing the following incident:

On June 13, 2011, Skylar Capo, 11, rescued a baby woodpecker that she believed was about to be eaten by the family cat at her dad’s home near Fredricksburg, Va.

Skylar’s mom, Alison Capo, agreed to let Skylar take the bird to their home for a day or two to make sure it was OK.

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On the way home, the family stopped at a Lowe's store, bringing the bird with them in a cage to spare it from the heat in the car.

So, part of Sensenbrenner's claim is accurate: The girl took a woodpecker she thought might be injured and put it in a cage.

Back to the story.

Inside the store, a woman confronted the Capos, saying she was from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that it was against the law to take or transport a woodpecker.

Capo said that as soon as she and her daughter returned home, they released the bird and reported the release to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

But two weeks later, on June 27, 2011, the same woman from the Lowe's store, accompanied by a state trooper, arrived at the Capos’ home. She had already drafted a citation for violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects woodpeckers and numerous other birds. Violation of the act is a misdemeanor and carries a fine, up six months in jail, or both.

After the visit, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agent determined no further action was necessary; and the next day, she canceled the citation she had drafted.

Several weeks later, however, Capo received a letter of violation, notifying her of a $535 fine, the possible jail time and a date to appear in federal court.

But no fine was ever paid. The Fish and Wildlife Service issued an apology, saying the citation had been processed "unintentionally" and should never have been issued.

Our rating

Arguing that the federal criminal code should be downsized, Sensenbrenner said an 11-year-old girl was investigated by the FBI and had to pay a $500 federal criminal fine "because she found an injured woodpecker and put it in a cage to make sure that the bird was OK."

The FBI didn’t investigate the girl, the citation issued was withdrawn and no fine was paid.

We rate Sensenbrenner's statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Christian Broadcasting Network, "700 Club" interview (quote at 4:15) of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, May 9, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Less incarceration? Sensenbrenner co-leading new 'over-criminalization' panel," May 9, 2013

CQ Weekly, "An end to the jailhouse blues?," May 11, 2013

CBS News, "Girl saves woodpecker, but her mom fined $535," Aug. 4, 2011

WUSA-TV, "Woodpecker-saving girl’s mother gets fined $500," Aug. 3, 2011

Email interview, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner communications director Ben Miller, May 16, 2013

Huffington Post, "Over-criminalization task force in House could rethink drug laws," May 7, 2013

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, news release, Aug. 2, 2011

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Girl had to pay $500 federal criminal fine for rescuing woodpecker, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner says

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