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Elk harassed from ultralight aircraft

A video still shot by Natrona County School District board member Kevin Christopherson, who was sentenced to probation for harassing a herd of elk in an ultralight aircraft. At one point the elk were driven through a barbed wire fence, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. 

After months of wrangling in court, Natrona County School District trustee Kevin Christopherson, 53, said he pleaded no contest on May 20 to charges that he harassed a large heard of elk in 2014 in Converse County.

Christopherson received one year of unsupervised probation and a one-year suspended jail sentence in Natrona County Circuit Court. He will also pay a $1,500 fine and lose his hunting privileges for a year, according to a Wyoming Game and Fish Department press release. 

The sentence comes after Christopherson filmed a large herd of elk on Sept. 23, while flying closely overhead in an ultra-light trike, a type of small aircraft. The video was shot in Deer Creek Park in the Laramie Range southeast of Casper.

He then posted the footage to Facebook and to YouTube three days later. The video went viral, receiving thousands of hits within days. The video now has almost as many clicks as residents in Casper.

But the video drew criticism almost as quickly. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported receiving more than 30 tips from concerned citizens. The comment section of the video is also filled with vitriol. 

"Clear harassment of wildlife, and blatantly illegal. Putting some trendy music to it doesn't make it 'cool.' I hope you get fined," wrote user "Bruce Smithhammer."

Christopherson was charged and eventually convicted of big game harassment, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $10,000, a one-year jail sentence and loss of hunting privileges for up to 6 years.

After fighting the charges for almost seven months, he said, he pleaded no contest. 

Christopherson doesn't believe that what he did harmed the animals. He said his intentions were to show the size of the herd, which is why, he said, he passed the video along to the Game and Fish before posting it online. 

In addition, he contends that he was granted permission from a Wyoming Game and Fish representative prior to doing so. A motion to dismiss, filed last month, said that Ken Ball, a friend of Christopherson, passed along the advice. 

"I have every reason to believe that I was helping them," he said, referring to the Game and Fish Department. 

As for his position on the Natrona County School District board of trustees, Christopherson said, "It's not good when a publicly elected official gets in trouble, but nobody is perfect."

"I'm not going to hang my head in shame ... It's not going to affect my school board duties," he said. 

Follow education reporter Nick Balatsos on Twitter @Nick_Balatsos.

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