Assateague Horse Shooter Sentenced

BERLIN — A Federalsburg man was fined heavily, ordered to pay restitution and banned from hunting for five years last week for shooting one of the famed wild ponies on Assateague in January 2011.

The 28-year-old horse was shot and killed during a planned two-day deer hunting season on Assateague in January 2011. The horse was found dead by a hunter and reported to park rangers. After several months of investigation, charges were filed against Justin B. Eason, 26, of Federalsburg including the illegal taking of wildlife, use of a weapon that endangers persons or property, destroying wildlife from its natural state and knowingly giving a false or fictitious report. Eason’s father, John A. Eason, 51, of Preston, was also charged with knowingly giving a false or fictitious report.

The case was heard by Federal Magistrate Judge Victor Laws last Friday. Laws ordered Justin Easton to pay $3,000 in fines, $2,000 in restitution for the horse and he was placed on supervised probation for 18 months. John Eason was fined $1,000 for providing a false report and was placed on probation for 12 months.

Both men were also banned from hunting on all federal lands for a period of five years and must enroll in and complete a hunter education and safety course as a condition of their probation. In his ruling, Laws said “I’m of the opinion that a fine alone is not enough to protect the public and our natural resources.”

Assateague officials this week were generally pleased with the outcome in the case.

“It’s gratifying to see the court system take the protection of Assateague’s resources and hunter safety so seriously,” said Superintendent Trish Kicklighter. “We’re hopeful that the case will serve as an example and encourage others to be more careful.”

According to Chief Ranger Ted Morlock, the incident could have been avoided if Eason had followed the cardinal rule of hunting to always be 100-percent sure on one’s target before pulling the trigger.

“He put everyone out there at risk and destroyed an iconic symbol of Assateague through his irresponsible behavior,” he said.

Morlock also noted had the Eason’s reported the violation immediately and not lied about it numerous times, the penalties would have been much less severe.

The horse was shot during a two-day managed deer hunt on the barrier island in January 2011. The hunt was part of the National Seashore’s annual hunting program that includes several gun seasons during the late fall and early winter. In addition to providing a unique and very popular recreational opportunity, the hunting program is used to manage resident deer populations.

Two species of deer are found on Assateague, including native white tail deer and the non-native sika deer, which were introduced to the island in the 1920s. Without the control provided by hunting, the non-native sika deer population would quickly grow and harm the native island environment. Hunting was authorized on Assateague by the federal legislation that established the National Seashore in 1965.

The horse that was killed was a 28-year-old mare with the identification number N2BH. While some of the wild ponies on Assateague are known by regular names, each is assigned a letter-number combination linked to the specific herds that allow park officials to track their whereabouts and breeding habits, for example.

During her lifetime, N2BH foaled six times and had 11 second or third generation offspring. In recent years, N2BH had been treated annually with contraceptives as part of a broader effort to maintain the size of the wild horse population at a sustainable level.