Beaver County Farm Operator and Employee Found Guilty of Using Toxic Pesticide to Kill Migratory Birds
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - A federal judge has found two Western Pennsylvania men guilty of three counts related to the unlawful killing of migratory birds, United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan announced today.
Robert Yost, 52, of New Galilee, Pennsylvania, and Jacob Reese, 27, of Enon Valley, Pennsylvania, were tried before United States District Judge W. Scott Hardy in Pittsburgh in late-October 2022.
The evidence presented at trial established that, in June 2020, Yost—as operator of Yost Farms in Beaver County, Pennsylvania—and one of his employees, Reese, conspired to kill migratory birds present on leased farmland operated by Yost Farms using carbofuran, a registered restricted-use pesticide. The Environmental Protection Agency concluded no later than 2009 that the dietary, worker, and ecological risks for all uses of carbofuran were unacceptable and that all products containing carbofuran generally caused unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment. As part of the conspiracy, Yost directed Reese to spread whole kernel corn coated in carbofuran in and around a leased field used for soybean cultivation to which children had access. The tainted corn attracted protected migratory birds that were killed within a short distance of where they ingested the corn. Yost and Reese thereafter took steps to conceal their efforts to poison and kill the migratory birds, including destroying the feed bag containing the carbofuran-laced whole corn kernel. When confronted by officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Reese and Yost also lied about their use of poisoned corn to kill the birds. In total, Yost and Reese were responsible for killing approximately 17 Canada geese, 10 red-winged blackbirds, and one mallard duck.
“Robert Yost and Jacob Reese used corn laced with an extremely toxic, banned pesticide to poison over two dozen migratory birds,” said U.S. Attorney Olshan. “The defendants’ indiscriminate criminal conduct also put the safety and health of the farm’s neighbors—including small children and a man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease—at risk. Protecting wildlife and the people who live in our communities from the illicit use of dangerous chemicals is, and will remain, a priority of this office and our dedicated partners in state and local law enforcement.”
“The deliberate application of a highly toxic pesticide, whose use is restricted due to the unreasonable risks to public health and the environment, threatened the health and well-being of the community and the children who played in the poison area, and resulted in the intentional killing of numerous migratory birds,” said Allison Landsman, EPA-CID Acting Special Agent in Charge. “The conviction of Robert Yost and Jacob Reese demonstrates EPA’s resolve to vigorously, with its federal and state partners, investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who criminally apply toxic pesticides and target species protected under federal law.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to holding accountable those who knowingly violate wildlife laws, which in this case resulted in the death of migratory birds and the potential serious harm of children and adults who live in the area,” said the Service’s Special Agent in Charge for the Northeast Region Ryan Noel. “We are grateful for strong relationships with partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, that allow us to be successful in these investigations and ensure future generations can enjoy wildlife resources.”
Judge Hardy scheduled both sentencing hearings for May 29, 2024, with the defendants each facing a total maximum term of imprisonment of 13 months and a total fine of $31,000. The actual sentence imposed would be based upon a consideration of statutory sentencing factors and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.
Assistant United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Brown and Special Assistant United States Attorney Perry D. McDaniel are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Office of Law Enforcement, Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division, and Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Yost and Reese, with assistance from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.