Birds seized from alleged avian smuggler
by Jake Rector
The home of a long-time research associate for the University of Alaska Museum of the North’s ornithology department was searched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month for evidence related to alleged smuggling of migratory birds.
Forty-eight bird specimens found in violation of the Migratory Birds Treaty Act were seized from the home of Heinrich “Henry” Springer, 79, on Oct. 8. The seizure was the result of an investigation which started in January of 2011 when suspicions were raised that Springer was misusing the museum’s MBTA Permit, which allows them to import migratory bird specimens for study and educational purposes, to import taxidermy bird specimens for his personal collection, a violation of MBTA regulation.
This is not the first time Springer has had birds seized from his property. In fact, he has had issues with importation laws four times in the past with separate events occurring in 2001 and 2002 and two more violations in 20o9. According to Springer’s lawyer Bill Ingaldson (Anchorage) these charges were dropped upon turning over of the specimens to the government, where they ended up as a part of the museum’s collection, where they legally belong, as Springer says he intended originally.
This does, however, seem to be the largest. According to the search warrant, during the course of the investigation it was found that Springer purchased 59 MBTA-protected birds via eBay from August of 2010 to May of 2014 using the university’s permit. Forty-eight of these specimens were imported into the U.S., also using the university’s permit. The warrant also discusses the importation of approximately 80 birds from a hunting trip to Peru in June of 2011, and a related trip in 2013.
As a sub-permittee of the university’s permit Springer is allowed to arrange for the importation of MBTA-protected bird specimens, but according to a quote from the Museum’s Curator of Bird’s Kevin Winker, found in the search warrant, “everything that is brought in needs to come here (the University Museum).” According to Winker, the specimens cannot be housed at the sub-permittee’s residence or shop. The warrant also indicated that as far as the museum knew, Springer was aware of this.
With all of this activity surrounding the university’s permit, some questions might be raised about whether UAF will suffer any consequences. When asked about this topic University Spokeswoman, Marmian Grimes, commented “At this point the museum does not seem to be a focus in the investigation, however saying more would be speculation.” UAF and the museum are cooperating fully with the USFWS during this investigation.
“(Springer) is a long standing colleague who has contributed a great deal to the Museum,” says Grimes. Springer has been a research associate of the museum since the 1950’s, and has previously served on the Alaska Board of Game as Chairman as well as serving as a state legislator. His impact on and knowledge of ornithology is incredibly significant according to both Grimes and Ingaldson and as such the ornithology lab at the museum is named after him. Springer has even donated over a thousand birds to the museum’s collection in the decades that he has worked with them. Most notably Springer donated a passenger pigeon specimen, a species extinct for 100 years now, in 2008.
Charges have yet to be filed against Springer due to which enforcement officers and the U.S. Assistant Attorney, Aunnie Steward, are unable to comment on the case. However, both look forward to relaying more information as they are able. When asked what the university’s official stance on the investigation was, Grimes indicated that the university intends to continue cooperating fully with the USFWS and are awaiting the results of the investigation.
Ingaldson expressed a similar sentiment stating that Springer “knows more about birds than perhaps any one in the United States and has provided an incredible body of knowledge to the university,” and that some of the allegations coming to light surrounding this investigation are just untrue, and they are eager to see them resolved.