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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

Friday, January 8, 2016

Rice Farmer Convicted and Fined for Poisoning Birds

VICTORIA, Texas – The operator of a Danbury rice farm has entered a guilty plea to illegally killing 65 brown-headed cowbirds and four red-tailed hawks, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson along with Southwest Region Special Agent in Charge Nicholas E. Chavez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

Nelson Bulanek, 54, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jason B. Libby today. Bulanek was ordered to pay a $10,000 community service payment to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Operation Game Thief Program and must serve two years of probation.

“The FWS Office of Law Enforcement contributes to service efforts and mission by conserving migratory birds through the enforcement of federal conservation laws,” said Chavez. “Intentionally and illegally poisoning federally protected migratory birds will be pursued and investigated by our agents. The survival of our nation's wildlife should not be subject to an individual’s harmful and illicit act.”

Bulanek was charged by a criminal information with one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provides protection for migratory birds. During the plea today, the court learned that Bulanek owns and operates a rice farm in Danbury. He came under investigation after TPWD officials received reports of numerous dead and dying birds on and near Bulanek’s property. Game wardens suspected the birds were poisoned and contacted officials with the FWS for assistance. 

Authorities collected several dead brown-headed cowbirds and red-tailed hawks. Agents then conducted field necropsies on two cowbirds and found both had rice in their digestive tract. Bulanek was interviewed by authorities, at which time he admitted to ordering his workers to mix a barrel of rice with a pesticide called Bidrin. Bulanek also admitted he had his workers spread the poisoned rice on a recently harvested rice field for the purpose of killing birds.

Forensic analyses on the rice and birds revealed the presence of Dicrotophos, which is an organophosphate inhibitor used as an insecticide. Bidrin is the brand name for Dicrotophos.

The charges were the result of an investigation conducted by FWS and TPWD. Assistant United States Attorney Hugo R. Martinez is prosecuting the case.

Updated January 8, 2016