Conservation officers seek public’s help in identifying poachers in multiple cases

ST. GEORGE — Multiple poaching incidents involving five animals, two of which were killed in Iron County, were reported to authorities, prompting conservation officers to seek the public’s help in identifying those responsible.

In September 2019, conservation officers with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources responded to two different poaching incidents near Vernal. The first was a small mule deer fawn that was shot and left on the side of the road near Dry Fork, while the second involved a pronghorn buck that was shot in the neck near Fiddler Road. Both animals were found alive and suffering from their injuries and were quickly euthanized by responding officers.

Around Oct. 4, in Garfield County, conservation officers responded to a report involving two pronghorn doe that were shot and left to waste about 50 yards off of Forest Road 154, near Big Lake on Boulder Mountain.

With the start of the spike elk season, there was an increase in the number of hunters in the area from the night of Oct. 4 and into the early morning hours of Oct. 5, which is the time period officers believe the doe were killed.

On Oct. 12, conservation officers received information that a bull elk had been shot and left to waste north of Sage Well in Iron County, and when conservation officer Kody Jones responded, he found the bull lying dead near the roadway with its antlers removed, he said.

Jones determined the animal had been shot multiple times approximately one week prior and the antlers were illegally collected while the meat was left to waste. There are no suspects at this time.

Poaching crimes can be serious and far-reaching

Poaching is illegal hunting, killing, capturing or taking of protected wildlife, and put simply, it is the wanton destruction or taking of an animal, Jones said. The three key elements that determine if an act constitutes poaching is if the individual knowingly, recklessly and intentionally kills the animal.

While at times poaching can be difficult to classify, it all comes down to intent.

“We see the whole gamut out here,” Jones said. “From hunters who say ‘oh man, I screwed up,’ to intentional acts where the antlers are cut off and the animal is left to die.”

He said that the individual’s intent plays a key role when deciding whether the act falls under wanton destruction, and also said that fear plays a role in many of the cases.

He continued by saying that even if a hunter makes a mistake and shoots the wrong deer, for example, that many times they panic, and it is human nature to go directly to the worst-case scenario, which isn’t typically the case. Once fear takes over though, the individual is racked by poor decision-making from there, and many will abandon the animal and leave — which can be a costly mistake.

“Once the animal is abandoned, even if the kill was by mistake, it is classified as poaching and will be treated as such,” Jones said.

He said the best way to handle that type of situation is to stay calm and call the Division of Wildlife Resources to report it. And while that may not get the hunter out of a fine completely, it allows the conservation officer to use a broad range of legal remedies to handle the situation.

“Call us and tell us what happened, and we will come out and handle the situation,” Jones said. “We have a lot of options when it comes down to how the incident is processed through the system.”

In cases where the Division of Wildlife Resources determines that a poacher’s crime is intentional or reckless, that person is subject to steep fines and restitution, and in certain cases, may even face jail time and the confiscation of hunting equipment and the loss of hunting and fishing privileges in multiple states. This is made possible by the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, an agreement between the states, including Utah, to honor each other’s decisions to deny licenses and permits to poachers.

In fact, it includes every state except Hawaii, according to the agency’s map.

When restitution is ordered, those payments go into the “Help Stop Poaching Fund,” which funds reward payments made to hunters who help catch and convict poachers.

Under Utah law, the following figures represent the minimum restitution amount that is required for poaching trophy animals.

  • $30,000 for bighorn sheep – either desert or Rocky Mountain.
  • $8,000 for deer with a 24-inch antler spread or larger.
  • $8,000 for elk with six points on at least one side.
  • $6,000 for moose or mountain goat.
  • $6,000 for bison.
  • $2,000 for pronghorn.

A reward may be available to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the killing of the animals listed and callers may remain anonymous. Anyone with information related to these incidents or information pertaining to any other wildlife crime are asked to call the UTIP Hotline at 800-662-3337.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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