More than 5,000 reports have been received of poaching in Colorado since 1981, resulting in more than 900 convictions, for which about $800,000 in fines were levied, and $150,000 paid to citizens for reports of suspected poaching, a recent summary asserts.
Studies show that poachers kill almost as many animals as legitimate hunters do during legal seasons in various states, says the report, from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). It points out that poachers steal not only revenues generated by legitimate hunting, but kill threatened, endangered and non-game species.
Notifications of suspected poaching arrive through Operation Game Thief, a program pioneered by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, which has been adopted by 49 of the 50 states.
Bob Thompson, acting chief of wildlife law enforcement for CPW, retiterated an agency theme that it’s a romantic myth to regard poachers as poor people trying to feed their families. Some kill for the thrill of killing and others for trophies, he said. Some kill for money, because trophy heads, antlers and bear gall bladders can be worth thousands of dollars.
“Hunters who keep shooting into a herd of animals should realize that not every animal goes down right away when it is hit,” Thompson said. “Not only is it unethical hunting, it leads to a lot of game waste, which in itself is illegal.”
Examples of mindless poaching are not hard to find. A particularly bad one occurred early this month north of Belgrade, Montana, when someone shot a black bear sow in the neck, leaving its cub to try to nurse on the dead mother.
The 25-pound yearling was captured by FWP personnel, weaned, fitted with a ear tag for monitoring, and released. The poacher has not been captured.
“I have seen people kill stuff out of season, but this was a senseless killing of a mother with a cub,” game warden Brian Lloyd of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in the Belgrade News.
Last week, a father and son from Oregon admitted to federal wildlife violations that for five years they had brought other Oregon clients to hunt big game illegally on a ranch in Park County, unbeknownst to the ranch’s owner, although his stepson and wife were charged with violations of state law.
An AP report said the two men, who acknowledged killing more than 300 deer in five years, will spend the next four deer seasons in jail and have been stripped of their hunting privileges for life.
Last winter, Idaho Fish & Game reported that seven deer and elk had been shot and left to waste during about one month along a road near Kamiah, Idaho. “We’ve investigated poaching activity in this area in the past, but nothing to this extent,” conservation officer Roger Westfall, told Spokane’s Spokesman-Review. “There is no excuse for these senseless crimes.”
The Colorado Division of Wildlife offered its maximum reward of $5,000 last winter for information on who had fatally shot a prize bull elk in downtown Estes Park with an arrow. The animal was the star attraction of the Elk Fest at the park.
One of the most high-profile poaching cases recently in the region concerned Idaho Falls elk rancher Rex Rammell, who last year finished second to incumbent Butch Otter in a six-way race for Idaho’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, garnering 26 percent of the vote. The story of Rammell’s poaching charges was published early this year on NewWest.Net.
This month, Rammell pleaded guilty to criminal contempt after trying to distribute leaflets among potential jurors of his trial for poaching. In July, he was convicted of a misdemeanor for killing a cow elk the previous winter in a different hunting zone than that permitted on his tag, which was expired.
After being charged late last year, he released a statement blaming the sporting goods store from which he purchased the tag for giving him misinformation. He wrote that he had told the Idaho Fish and Game warden who caught him dragging the animal behind his snowmobile, “You better get your gun out, because you’re going to have to shoot me if you want this elk.”
Rammell’s hunting license was suspended for two years, and he was required to pay $1,250 in fines and fees, plus serve a 175-day jail sentence, which was stayed while he appeals the verdict.
Another political operative, Randy Vogel, was charged with poaching last spring, one day after being appointed state director for Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg. He claimed the charge that he illegally shot a spike elk was politically motivated.
The prosecution argued that Vogel, a former police officer, subsequently sold his rifle to an anonymous buyer because he knew the weapon would incriminate him. No evidence emerged that Vogel had fired the .270 caliber bullet, and he was acquitted.