KIOWA COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Four men were sentenced this week for killing four endangered whooping cranes near Tom Steed Reservoir back in 2021.

Joseph M. Roman, 43, of Altus, Justin M. Wine, 40, of Altus, Chanod M. Campbell, 32, of Gould, and Brian Lee Gollihare Jr., 35, of Hollis, were charged August 22, 2023, for the deaths of four whooping cranes in November 2021.

Oklahoma Game Warden Jeremy Brothers approaches the injured whooping crane that later died due to its injuries.
Oklahoma Game Warden Jeremy Brothers approaches an injured whooping crane that later died due to its injuries.

One whooping crane was discovered with a shotgun wound by hunters, who then notified game wardens with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC).

Unfortunately, the whooping crane died while being transported to a veterinarian clinic.

Further investigation of the area where the crane was found uncovered three more deceased whooping cranes.

Prosecutors say the men were hunting at Tom Steed Reservoir when they killed four whooping cranes and attempted to hide the birds before leaving the scene.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement is committed to conducting criminal investigations with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for the protection of endangered species such as the whooping crane,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “The outcomes of this case are the result of vigorous investigative efforts by the Office of Law Enforcement and our ODWC partners to bring wildlife violators to justice.”

Whooping cranes are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Whooping cranes travel through Oklahoma during migrations to and from their breeding grounds in Texas. Most whooping crane sightings in Oklahoma are reported from mid-October through November.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the whooping crane is one of the rarest birds in North America and are highly endangered. An FWS report from May 2023, estimates there are less than 600 total whooping cranes in the wild. 

“Each of us bears responsibility to protect endangered wildlife so that the species is preserved for future generations,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Troester. “My office stands with and commends the work done by our federal and state law enforcement partners, and we hope this case serves as a warning for those who would harm endangered species.”

All four men pleaded guilty and have been ordered to each pay $17,000 in restitution to the International Crane Foundation and pay a $750 fine. They were also each ordered to forfeit their shotguns and will also lose their hunting privileges in all 50 states for the next five years.

“This is a great example of state and federal agencies working closely together throughout the investigation. The outstanding ODWC Game Wardens were tireless in tracking down leads and in their collection of key evidence that led to this outcome,” said Nathan Erdman, Law Enforcement Chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Rest assured that those committing wildlife violations in Oklahoma will be caught thanks to thorough investigations like this along with tips from the public.”