Nevada felon guilty of violating Endangered Species Act
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada felon pleaded guilty to multiple charges Wednesday including violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act after he rammed his ATV into a gate and harmed the federally protected Devils Hole pupfish at a Death Valley National Park wildlife refuge.
Trenton Sargent, 28, of Indian Hills also destroyed surveillance cameras and fired a gun at the gate in April 2016 at a detached unit of the park’s Ashe Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Amargosa Valley along the Nevada-California line, prosecutors said.
He pleaded guilty in federal court in Las Vegas Wednesday to one count each of violating the Endangered Species Act, destroying U.S. property and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Violating the federal wildlife protection act is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine. Each of the other crimes, both felonies, are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.
After failing to break through the gate at the enclosed area at Devils Hole, prosecutors say Sargent and two co-defendants scaled the fence and destroyed a sensor center for cameras and equipment, along with a National Park Service video surveillance camera.
Sargent said he then stepped into the water of Devils Hole, smashing fish eggs and larvae during the peak spawning season for endangered pupfish, who lay their eggs on the shallow shelf about 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas.
It’s the only place in the world known to still be inhabited by the rare species related to fish that once lived in an ancient lake covering Death Valley, National Park Service officials said.
Sargent’s sentencing is set for Oct. 25.
The co-defendants, Edgar Reyes, 37, of North Las Vegas, and Steven Schwinkendorf, 31, of Pahrump, previously pleaded guilty to destruction of government property and a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Each was sentenced to one year’s probation.