Antler Request Mushrooms Into Seven Convicted
One hunter's legitimate request for an Interstate Game Tag to possess a set of deer antlers he found, mushroomed into a 2-month investigation and convictions of seven young men from the Cokeville area.
Cokeville game warden Neil Hymas received the game tag request in late October from a hunter who found the buck mule deer carcass near the Smith's Fork Highway, about four miles east of Cokeville.
An investigation ensued when Hymas discovered the buck had been shot and abandoned during a closed season. The two-month investigation revealed that seven young men three adults and four juveniles were involved in poaching four deer and an elk. The range of violations included wanton destruction of mule deer, using artificial light to take wildlife, attempting to take big game out of season and use of a controlled substance.
The adults charged are an 18-year-old man and a 20-year-old man from Cokeville and a 19-year-old man from Casper.
Lincoln County Circuit Judge Frank Zebre recently sentenced the 18-year-old to serve 40 days of a 180-day jail term for wanton destruction of antlered mule deer. He was also fined $1,000, placed on 1-year probation and had his hunting and fishing privileges revoked for six years.
The 19-year-old was ordered to serve 30 days of a 180-day jail sentence for wanton destruction of an antlered mule deer. He was also fined $1,000 and had his hunting and fishing privileges revoked for five years.
The judge assessed the 20-year-old over $2,800 in fines and court costs for two counts of accessory to wantonly destroy mule deer, taking a deer out of season and hunting with artificial light. He was also sentenced to 90 days in jail and a 5-year loss of hunting and fishing privileges.
All three men were ordered to pay a joint restitution of $5,000 for the two mule deer bucks they poached. In addition to Wyoming, the individuals also lose their hunting and fishing privileges in the other 12 member states of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
Two of the three adults and one juvenile were convicted on charges of using a controlled substance. Hymas said that under an agreement with the Lincoln County Attorney's Office and the defendants, other wildlife violations were dismissed.
The juveniles were convicted of eight charges ranging from hunting from a public road to taking elk during a closed season and waste and abandonment of the animal. They also appeared in Lincoln County Circuit Court and were sentenced by Judge Zebre.
"It is sad to see the disrespect and destruction of wildlife by this type of behavior," Hymas said. "Some of these subjects were basically driving around at night shooting at any wildlife they saw."
On a more positive note, Hymas said that landowners and local citizens, including the families of most of the defendants, have been very helpful in getting the incident cleared up.
Anyone with information about Wyoming wildlife violations is urged to call a Wyoming game warden or the Stop Poaching Hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.
The TIP-MONT program's Board of Directors awarded $5,800 to 10 individuals who offered tips in 2000 that led to the apprehension of violators. Cases for which rewards were paid varied from out-of-season hunting of wildlife to exceeding limits and baiting, said Shelly Hiron, TIP-MONT coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. The cases involved a variety of species with furbearers, fish and big game animals being killed unlawfully.
A record number of calls came into Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' 1-800-TIP-MONT hotline in 2000.
"We logged over 1,000 calls last year, the most calls in the 16-year history of the hotline," said Hiron. In 1996, TIP-Mont calls numbered 770. In 1999, 870 reports came into the hotline and additional 150 calls were for information only. Hiron said many TIP-MONT callers this year specifically stated that they did not seek rewards.
Hiron said the increase in wildlife- and recreation-violation tips appears to be related to a Montana public that is less tolerant of both fish and wildlife poachers and of vandals who destroy public property.
"People want to protect Montana fish, wildlife, parks and forest lands. We hear it almost every day and not just during the hunting season. We are now answering a lot more calls that report violations at fishing access sites, at our state parks, and even in our national forests," Hiron said.
The Montana Legislature authorized FWP to establish a toll-free fish and game violation hotline 1-800-TIP-MONT and to offer rewards to those who call in tips. Since 1985, use of the line to report known or suspected violations of fish and wildlife laws has grown markedly. In 1997, the legislature expanded the authority of FWP to offer rewards for tips on violations that occur in state parks.
Each 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668) caller may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.
"It is so important to the solving of these crimes that callers contact us immediately when they witness a violation and provide as much specific information as they possibly can. The faster we can begin working on a crime, the better our success in solving it," Hiron said.
Over the years, thousands of tips about suspected violations have been received over the hotline the number for which is 1-800-847-6668. These calls have come from both inside and outside of Montana. The line is open 24 hours a day and callers can remain anonymous, do not have to testify in court and may receive a reward for their tip that helps to protect Montana's fish, wildlife and parks resources.
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