Citizen’s Against Poaching - Thanks to You It Works
Thursday, May 5, 2016
October 2015 - Senior Conservation Officer Julie Lininger, Panhandle Region
The afternoon of October 11, 2015 was a busy one. I was in the middle of an illegal elk case when my cell phone began to ring. The cell phone connection was poor and the call was lost. I was able to continue the conversation via text message. A concerned sportsman had just observed three individuals shoot three mule deer does about 3 hours from my location. There is no legal hunting season for antlerless mule deer in the Panhandle Region.
As I made my way to the location where the suspects were supposedly camped I received another phone call from yet another citizen who also observed three suspects with three antlerless mule deer near where the first caller stated suspects were camped. This citizen gave me an exact location of the camp and relayed ATV license plates identical to what I already received.
At about 7 PM I contacted the three suspects at their camp. They all admitted to shooting three antlerless mule deer illegally. I issued all three people citations for unlawfully taken deer, and seized the three does. The carcasses were processed and are currently being held until the cases have gone through the court process. Usually seized meat from these cases is donated to the local food banks after the court process is finalized.
Without the efforts of these concerned sportsmen, it is highly unlikely these violations would have ever been detected. Not only did the sportsmen relay vital information about the suspects and their location, but one of them took photos of the ATV license plates, and of the three illegal deer.
Thanks to all those who make the call to report wildlife violations. You are instrumental in catching poachers stealing wildlife from Idaho’s citizens.
September 2015 - District Conservation Officer Justin Williams, Salmon Region
Leadore, ID - The Beaverhead zone A tag has two boundary rules to legally shoot a cow elk with a rifle during the months of August and September: 1) hunters must be within one mile of an agricultural field; and 2) those participating in this hunt must stay outside of the national forest administrative boundary. Nick named the "greenfield hunt," this hunt was designed to keep pressure on elk damaging agricultural crops, and move them back into the mountains away from the fields.
On September 30th, the last day of the greenfield hunt, the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline received a call. Two archery hunters witnessed a group of six hunters in three vehicles violate both of these rules – the elk and hunters were about 4 miles from the nearest field, and they were on national forest lands. Additionally, the group was driving off road and using their vehicles as an aid to the hunt. A call to the CAP hotline with detailed information on vehicle makes, models, colors, and even an approximate year of manufacture along with a description of those involved enabled responding officers to quickly locate the group.
Senior Conservation Officer Andy Smith and Conservation Officer Nic DeBolt contacted two of the vehicles and five of the hunters at the site. District Conservation Officer Justin Williams contacted the sixth person in the third vehicle near the town of Leadore. Armed with the information from the witnesses the officers quickly determined that a number of violations had occurred. The group claimed they didn’t kill any elk, but a search of the area revealed a different story. A cow had been shot and left to waste. Evidence collected from the shooters and evidence found at the scene linked one of the five shooters to the killing of that elk. Additional information revealed that the shooter had also killed an elk earlier in the season resulting in several other violations.
Kelly Cook pled guilty in Lemhi County Magistrate Court to waste of game, exceed the big game bag limit, and taking elk during a closed season. He was sentenced by the Honorable Judge Stephen J. Clark to pay fines and restitution in the amount of $2,357 and his hunting privileges were revoked for 5 years.
Lance MacFarlane pled guilty to attempt to take elk during a closed season and hunting with the aid of a motorized vehicle. He was sentenced to pay $886 in fines, had his hunting privileges revoked for 1 year, and ordered to perform 10 hours of community service.
Three others in the group were also charged but their names are not being released pending court adjudication.
"Without the detailed call from the concerned hunters, we never could have made this case," said Conservation Officer Nic DeBolt. "We need other hunters to be our eyes in the field. We need them to call the CAP hotline when they witness a wildlife crime."
November 2014 - Regional Investigator Kurt Stieglit, Southwest Region
A deer poaching case involving a distinctive vehicle, an alert citizen, and a groundswell of public interest has concluded with fines and license suspensions for a Roosevelt, Utah man. And a Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) call started it all.
In early November of 2014, a concerned citizen called the CAP hotline to report what he thought to be an illegally-taken mule deer. While fueling his vehicle at the Boise Stage Stop on Interstate 84 east of Boise, he visited with two men driving a brand new tan Ford Raptor pickup truck. A tarp-covered mule deer buck in the back of the Raptor caught his attention, and motivated him to report his observations.
Just days later, Fish and Game investigators identified one of those men as Mark Richens (34) of Roosevelt, Utah. It was also determined that Richens had just purchased a duplicate deer tag, reporting to the issuing license vendor that his original unit 40 late-season buck tag had been lost.
Shortly afterwards, it was determined that Richens was back in Unit 40, actively hunting trophy mule deer. Officers eventually located both Richens and his hunting partner where they proved to be less than cooperative during an interview, suggesting that officers “contact our attorneys.”
On December 19 2014, some case information and photographs were released to the public via standard media as well as the Fish and Game Southwest Region and CAP Facebook pages, with an appeal for additional information that might bolster the case against Richens.
Public reaction was both rapid and overwhelming, as the post was quickly relayed from one Facebook user to another. “We had an amazing response from the Facebook world,” Fish and Game regional investigator Kurt Stieglitz noted. “I received a message the very first evening from a caller who identified Mark Richens as the driver of the Ford Raptor and provided other case details.” Additional information funneled into Stieglitz’ office in the days that followed, allowing him to seek a criminal complaint against Richens for attempting to take a second trophy mule deer.
Mark Richens was eventually charged with one count of hunting/unlawfully taking a big game animal in Owyhee County, Idaho, and one count of hunting with an invalid tag. In early October 2015, the invalid tag charge was dropped as part of a plea agreement by which Richens was ordered to pay $665 in fines and court costs. Owyhee County Magistrate Judge Dan Grober also handed down a two-year hunting license revocation which included the provision that Richens cannot be in possession of a firearm while in Idaho, nor accompany another hunter in the field in Idaho for the two-year period. A 90-day jail sentence will be imposed should Richens fail to comply with these conditions during his one-year probationary period.
Fish and Game officers did the legwork, but the real heroes in this case were ordinary citizens. “We developed a solid case thanks to citizen involvement,” Stieglitz said. “It’s gratifying to know that so many Idahoans value the state’s wildlife and will move quickly to defend it.”
Persons with any information about suspected poaching activity are encouraged to call the Citizens against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999, twenty-four hours a day. Callers can remain anonymous and cash rewards are often paid for information leading to the successful conclusion of a case. In addition to the CAP hotline, persons may also contact their local Fish and Game office with information regarding a suspected poaching case.
On December 20, 2014, Terry Jones of Cottonwood, and Brett Bubba Kuhn of Grangeville, grabbed their rifle and went hunting on the South Fork of the Clearwater. It was the last day of an archery only elk and deer hunt in Unit 15. During the drive in, Kuhn shot at and missed a deer. At about 9:00 am the men saw some elk in the lower end of Earthquake Basin and Kuhn shot and killed one. Those few shots were heard by some very concerned archery hunters about a mile away in Earthquake Basin.
One archer hunted his way to the area hoping to get a chance at an elk. About an hour after the shots were fired, the archer saw two men come to the area and they left the same way. The archer worked his way through the basin and at 3:00 pm saw 3 men, one with a bow and the other two with pack-frames where he heard the shots that morning. The archer decided to contact them. The men were nervous and very evasive as to why they were wearing pack-frames, and why they were coming to the hunting area that late on the last day of the archery season. The archer realized he had cell service and called the CAP line as soon as he was clear of the men.
Officers Kinner and Fischer went to the area immediately and contacted 3 men coming off the hill in the rain at about 6:30pm that evening. The men had no meat, no rifle, no indication they had killed anything. However, one man did have blood on his pants, which he said came from his elk he was processing that morning. During questioning the men denied killing anything and were allowed to leave.
On Monday, December 22, Biologist Jim White notified Officers Fischer and Kinner that a collared elk may be dead as the collar started sending a mortality signal on Saturday from the same area. Officers Kinner, Fischer, and Roll returned to the location and found the collared elk, with a bullet in the shoulder, and left to rot. Evidence was collected and interviews conducted ultimately ending in confessions from the three men.
The third man Roger Davis of Stites received written warnings for attempting to assist with the elk recovery. Jones was cited for kill big game with a rifle during an archery only season and obstruct and delay and Kuhn was charged with kill big game with a rifle during an archery only season and wasteful destruction of wildlife.
Total fines and penalties for Jones were $3462, 30 days in jail, 20 suspended, and license revoked for 8 years. Total fines and penalties for Kuhn were $4662, 30 days in jail, suspended 20 days, and license revoked for 10 years.
Two men who trespassed to poach deer in Lemhi County won’t be legally hunting in Idaho anytime soon.
On December 7, 2014, conservation officers received a trespass call from a landowner near the town of Lemhi Idaho, who said hunters had trespassed and shot a deer in their field. The suspects fled the scene with the deer, but were caught by conservation officers on Hwy 33 near I-15. When officers looked in vehicles they found the mule deer from the trespassing complaint, and parts and pieces of four other deer adding up to five total animals for only four hunters. Officers discovered multiple violations in addition to the trespassing, including tagging violations, taking mule deer during closed season, possession of unlawfully taken deer, failing to leave evidence of sex and species naturally attached to the carcass and purchase of a wrong class license. The majority of the deer meat was seized, and DNA samples were taken to determine their species as the mule deer season was closed.
At the hunters’ abandoned camp officers found three of the deer carcasses. One had only the hind quarters and back-straps removed, while the rest of the meat was left to waste. Officers were unable to locate the fifth deer carcass at that time, but suspected another mule deer had been taken, based on the size of the hind-quarters. Further investigation revealed one hunter was a non-resident who had purchased resident licenses and tags. Officers also learned that same suspect killed a mountain lion in 2009 without a tag.
An eventual confession led officers to the carcass of the other mule deer which was taken in the closed season. The suspects had dumped it along the Salmon River, and had left most of the meat, including both front shoulders, to waste.
All four men pleaded guilty and received the following sentences:Chad Anderson of Heber City, Utah: Unlawfully taking two or more big game animals within a 12 month period, Wasteful destruction of game, purchase of wrong class licenses and trespassing.
Early in 2012, Senior Conservation Officer Greg Johnson received an anonymous tip the Todd Navarro had taken three men from Williston, ND on an illegal mountain lion hunt in Boundary County. None of the three men had a current Idaho hunting license or mountain lion tag. The informant continued to tell Officer Johnson that all three had killed lions with the aid of hounds, and that they had paid $500 each to Mr. Navarro. Mr. Navarro is not a licensed outfitter or guide in Idaho, so he could not legally guide anyone. Hunting with hounds in Idaho as a nonresident also requires a hound hunter permit, which is very limited and can be obtained by special drawing only.
Following up on that tip Officer Johnson discovered that Todd Navarro, his son Jacob Navarro, and their friend Chris Wilson all reported killing mountain lions, in a two day period the previous week. Officer’s Johnson and Dave Overman contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service and North Dakota Game and Fish for assistance. ND Wildlife Officer Brent Schwan located three Idaho mountain lion hides at a taxidermy shop in Williston. The taxidermy records showed that Eric Harmel, Dwayne Hellman, and Richard Gustafson, all from Williston, claimed the three lions.
Officers Overman and Dan Hislop drove the 750 miles from Coeur d’Alene, ID to Williston, ND to interview the three men, all of whom confessed to knowingly killing lions illegally in Idaho. Officers seized skulls, hides, and archery equipment, all of which had been associated with the illegal hunt. All six men were charged with Lacey Act violations in federal court. Under the Lacey Act, any unlawfully taken animal that crosses state lines becomes a federal violation.
In August 2012 Gustafson, Harmel, and Hellman all pled guilty at the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene. They were each sentenced to pay $4800 in fines, fees and restitution, perform 25 hours of community service, lose hunting privileges in the US for one year, and forfeit their bows, and the lion skulls and hides.
In May 2014 Jacob Navarro and Chris Wilson both pled guilty in federal court and received $775 and $525 in fines and fees respectively, and both lost their US hunting privileges for three years.
In October 2014 Todd Navarro pled guilty in federal court and was sentenced to pay $525 in fines and fees, five years of probation, and a five year loss of hunting privileges in the United States. He is also required to complete 50 hours of community service and take a hunter education class.
This case was an excellent example of several different agencies working together to combat wildlife crime. North Dakota Game and Fish, US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents, Idaho Fish and Game, and the US Attorney’s Office all worked together to successfully bring this case to a close.