Alaska ornithologist charged with smuggling endangered, protected birds

Published: Jun. 21, 2016 at 6:30 PM AKDT
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An Alaska ornithologist and longtime research associate with the University of Alaska Museum of the North was recently charged with several counts of illegally smuggling bird specimens into the United States.

A federal indictment filed earlier this month names 79-year-old Heinrich “Henry” Springer as one of four defendants involved in purchasing, killing and importing various species of protected or endangered birds. The charges stem from an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that began in 2014.

Springer was once a

. The university

in his honor.

According to assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward, the charges were filed in Florida which is where the investigation first began and where the defendants will be prosecuted. Springer has surrendered and is cooperating with prosecutors, Steward said.

Springer acted as a collaborator and research affiliate with the Museum of the North’s ornithology department beginning in the 1950s, according to UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes. During that time, he donated many bird specimens to the museum’s collection. The museum issued him a federal permit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which allowed him to purchase and import specimens for the museum from qualified sources for research and educational purposes.

The charges allege that Springer used this permit to illegally trade and barter bird mounts for his personal collection in 2011 and 2012. He is also charged with hunting and collecting indigenous birds in Peru, and smuggling the specimens out of the country and into the United States. The charges say Springer used falsified documents to ship bird specimens to co-conspirators in Alaska, Florida and the U.K.

The university removed Springer as a permittee in October 2014 after learning that he was under investigation, according to Grimes. The museum and UAF have since cooperated fully with investigators. While he was a regular contributor, Springer was never an employee of the museum or the university, Grimes said.

Springer also previously worked as an engineer in the Alaska Department of Transportation and was a member of the state legislature from 1987-1988, according to the Alaska State Legislature’s website.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska was not immediately available to comment on the investigation Tuesday.