Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Game warden faces possible prison

Ready for sentencing

I thought conservation officers were supposed to catch lawbreakers, not be  lawbreakers. From the Associated Press:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge on Monday is scheduled to sentence a former Ohio wildlife officer convicted of helping a South Carolina hunter illegally obtain an Ohio deer license at a discount that saved him about $105.
Allan Wright was also convicted of seizing the antlers of two deer taken illegally and giving the antlers to a friend instead of securing them as crime evidence.
Prosecutors are seeking three months in prison, a year of supervised release and a $1,000 fine, while Wright is asking for probation and a reasonable fine.
Government prosecutors argue the case involves a pattern of criminal conduct and that Wright’s actions jeopardized the honor system that is the backbone of state hunting and fishing programs.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources fired Wright in October.
Charges filed

Forest ranger James Schoeffler ought to get a medal or something. Certainly hikers in Utah owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Chances are his actions saved at least one hiker from death or serious injury.

Schoeffler, a former military man, knew enough about booby traps to recognize them when he found them. And when he found booby traps at a trail shelter on a popular recreational trail, he took immediate action. And now the two men accused of setting the traps are facing harsh justice. Good.

From the Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Utah men accused of setting potentially deadly booby traps along a popular hiking trail have been charged with felony aggravated assault.
Benjamin Rutkowski, 19, of Orem, and Kai Christensen, 21, of Provo, await a June 13 court appearance after being charged with the third-degree felony in 4th District Court this week, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
They were arrested April 21 on suspicion of misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
According to court documents, the men built two traps around a well-known, makeshift shelter along the Big Springs trail in Provo Canyon, located about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City.
One was rigged to a trip wire to send a 20-pound, spiked boulder swinging at head level of an unsuspecting hiker, while the other was designed to trip a passer-by into a bed of sharpened wooden stakes.
U.S. Forest Service Officer James Schoeffler, who discovered the traps while on a routine patrol of the area, said the traps could have caused significant or lethal injuries, court documents state. Schoeffler spent 12 years in the military as a bomb disposal technician dismantling deadly devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police have said it was fortunate that Schoeffler was the first to discover the traps, given his military training.
According to the charging documents, both men admitted making the traps but said they were intended for wildlife such as wild boar and bunnies, not people.
There are no listed phone numbers for the men. Phone calls went unanswered Saturday to Rutkowski’s father, Steven, who previously declined comment. Christensen’s mother, Sharon, didn’t immediately return a phone call. It wasn’t clear if either suspect had an attorney.
A third-degree felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Follow this link to the Tampa Bay Times’ story about a Florida deer hunter who shot an endangered Florida panther because he didn’t want the cat to interfere with his hunting.

Todd Benfield, 45, of Naples, pleaded guilty to the crime and said he’s sorry to have cast hunters in such a negative light.

It remains to be seen whether Benfield will serve any jail time for the illegal killing. In previous panther-killing cases, judges have levied fines but have been reluctant to issue jail sentences.

Teen gets stripped of striper record

What is it about record-breaking fish that makes anglers want to lie, cheat, break the law and do all manner of unscrupulous things?

That was a rhetorical question, of course.

Latest case in point: A Colorado teenager who caught a state-record striped bass — oops. From the Associated Press:

LONGMONT, Colo. — A Longmont teenager has been stripped of his record for a 31-pound, 8-ounce striped bass after he admitted he lied about where he caught it.
Isaac Sprecher says he was immature for contending he caught the fish at northwest Longmont’s McIntosh Lake, when he’d actually reeled it in from a pond at Pella Crossing, a Boulder County Open Space area with catch-and-release rules.
According to the Longmont Times-Call, state wildlife managers verify all claims for fish records and they smelled something fishy about Sprecher’s claim.
The state’s official striped bass record-holder remains a 15-pound, 11-ounce fish caught in 2009 in Pueblo County.

The full story can be found here, in the Longmont Times-Call.

Know the laws, Ted

Once again, bowhunter Ted Nugent has run afoul of the law because he and his television show staff failed to familiarize themselves with the law of the land. This time the oversight will result in a misdemeanor conviction in federal court.

From the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rocker and wildlife hunter Ted Nugent has agreed to plead guilty to transporting a black bear he illegally killed in southeast Alaska.
Nugent made the admission in signing a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that was filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Calls seeking comment from Nugent, his Anchorage attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross, and assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt were not immediately returned.
The plea agreement says Nugent illegally shot and killed the bear in May 2009 on Sukkwan Island days after wounding a bear in a bow hunt, which counted toward a state seasonal limit of one bear.
According to the agreement, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, the six-day hunt was filmed for his Outdoor Channel television show, “Spirit of the Wild.” In the hunt, Nugent used a number of bear-baiting sites on U.S. Forest Service property, according to the agreement.
The document says Nugent knowingly possessed and transported the bear in misdemeanor violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Nugent, identified in the agreement as Theodore A. Nugent, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, according to the agreement, which says he also agreed with a two-year probation, including a special condition that he not hunt or fish in Alaska or Forest Service properties for one year. He also agreed to create a public service announcement that would be broadcast on his show every second week for one year, the document states.
“This PSA will discuss the importance of a hunter’s responsibility in knowing the rules and regulations of the hunting activities that they engage in, which is subject to the review and final approval, prior to any broadcast, by a representative of the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Alaska,” the agreement says.
Nugent, who signed the document April 14, also agreed to pay the state $600 for the bear that was taken illegally, according to the agreement. He would still need to enter the plea in court and have the plea be approved by a judge.
Nugent — a conservative activist famed for his 1977 hit “Cat Scratch Fever” — drew the attention of the Secret Service after he rallied support last weekend for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and said of the Obama administration: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.” His comments were made during a National Rifle Association meeting in St. Louis.
Nugent said on his website Thursday that he discussed the matter with two agents on Thursday while in Oklahoma.
“The meeting could not have gone better,” he said. “I thanked them for their service, we shook hands and went about our business. God bless the good federal agents wherever they may be.”
Nugent said he was just speaking figuratively and that he didn’t threaten anyone’s life or advocate violence.
“Metaphors needn’t be explained to educated people,” he said.
A Secret Service spokesman has said the issue has been resolved.
With hunting, Nugent has run afoul of the law before.
In August 2010, California revoked Nugent’s deer hunting license after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of deer-baiting and not having a properly signed tag.
Nugent’s loss of that deer hunting license through June 2012 allows 34 other states to revoke the same privilege under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Each state, however, can interpret and enforce the agreement differently.

Birder arrested after moving hawk’s body

Sometimes it’s possible to get in trouble for trying to do the right thing. From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime observer of celebrated New York City red-tailed hawk Pale Male was arrested after finding the body of the bird’s yearlong mate, authorities said Tuesday.
State Department of Environmental Conservation said Lincoln Karim, a broadcast engineer for Associated Press Television News, was arrested on charges including illegal possession of a raptor. He was later released.
Karim said he had taken the body of Pale Male’s mate, Lima, after finding it dead in Central Park over the weekend and taking photographs of it.
Concerned that an animal would eat it or a maintenance worker would toss it away, he said he put the body in a grocery bag and took it to his apartment, where he stowed away the carcass on his fire escape.
He said he intended to have the bird’s body examined to determine a cause of death by taking it to the State Wildlife Pathology laboratory in Delmar, N.Y.
“I did the right thing,” he said. “If I had photographed the hawk and walked away — I couldn’t do that.”
DEC police contacted him Monday and requested he turn the bird over to them.
He initially refused, saying he feared the DEC would not investigate Lima’s death properly.
He said he was arrested when he returned the bird to the park.
Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said that before his arrest he had agreed to meet with a DEC conservation officer to turn over Lima’s body. “Karim did not cooperate and caused the officer to go to multiple locations over several hours,” she said in a statement.
Pale Male took up with Lima after his longtime mate, Lola, disappeared in December 2010.
Pale Mate and Lola famously built a nest on a Fifth Avenue high-rise ledge before they were evicted by the co-op. They were allowed to rebuild their nest after an outcry from bird lovers.

Man pleads guilty to eagle killings

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

A recent post told how a Maine man had been sentenced to a year in jail for killing a single bald eagle. Imagine, then, what a Montana man might get for killing several bald and golden eagles. From the Associated Press:

HARDIN, Mont. (AP) — A 71-year-old Hardin man has acknowledged killing bald and golden eagles and selling their parts.
The Billings Gazette reports William Esley Hugs pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to traffic in eagles and migratory birds. A plea agreement calls for five other charges to be dismissed when he is sentenced on May 17.
Hugs and at least five others, including his son and his brother, were charged last summer after a tip led to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Steger Smith says FWS worked with an informant to buy eagle feathers, bird parts and whole eagle carcasses from Hugs from about December 2010 until February 2011.
Bald and golden eagles are protected by federal law.

Come to think of it, Hugs probably won’t get a severe sentence. He’s 71 years old, and courts tend to take it easy on old-timers.

Father, son face poaching charges

A father-son case

Poaching is bad. Involving your kids in poaching seems infinitely worse.

Authorities say an Oregon man did just that. Charles Douglas Cochran, 38, of Eagle Point, Ore., has been arrested and charged with the illegal killing of six trophy black-tailed bucks. Cochran’s 16-year-old son faces similar charges in juvenile court.

A judge set Cochran’s bail at $24,000. My friend Mark Freeman has the details here, in the Medford Mail Tribune.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

A possible record buck, if it hadn’t been poached

The hammer drops again

When are poachers going to learn that the truth eventually finds its way out? Wildlife law enforcement is so good, so effective nowadays that it has become a fool’s errand to even attempt it.

From the Associated Press:

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka man has been charged with poaching a 14-point whitetail buck that could have broken a state record that has stood for more than 35 years, authorities said.
David V. Kent was charged Feb. 1 in Osage County with eight counts related the Nov. 11 shooting of the deer, said Mike Miller, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The charges include hunting with an artificial light, hunting during a closed season, illegal hunting from a vehicle and use of an illegal caliber for deer hunting.
Kent was served court documents Monday. A message left at Kent’s business Friday was not returned.
The Wichita Eagle reported that the deer was unofficially scored at 198 7/8 inches of antler on the Boone & Crockett system. Although it was measured by an official scorer, it hadn’t met the waiting period of at least 60 days after the kill required to make the score official.
The state record for a typical whitetail deer shot with a gun is 198 2/8 by Dennis Finger in Nemaha County in 1974.
Kent brought the antlers, which he said came from a deer killed in northeast Kansas, to public attention at the Monster Buck Classic last month in Topeka. He was taken into custody and the antlers confiscated after he was recognized as having brought the largest typical antlers to the event.
Wildlife agents have compared the antlers to a photo that surfaced showing the buck was alive in the fall in Osage County. Agents believe the antlers came from the same deer.
This is the third Kansas buck with antlers that could qualify as a state record that isn’t officially recognized.

Should hunting rifles be silenced?

Proponents believe silencers (or, more properly, suppressors) are a good idea because they’ll prevent the sound of hunters’ shots from disturbing nearby landowners.

I’m sure deer poachers everywhere are salivating at the thought.

If suppressors became legal in West Virginia, trophy bucks in the state’s four bowhunting-only counties would live live hard. The sound of gunshots, particularly at night, is one of the few ways law enforcement officers have of detecting poachers in those rugged, largely rural counties.

As far as I know, no one has yet proposed changing West Virginia’s law. But lawmakers in Kansas, Louisiana and Washington have already approved suppressors, and the Georgia Legislature just took up the issue. From the Associated Press:

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia Senate proposal would end the ban on silencers for hunting firearms.
Senate Bill 301 is sponsored by Sen. John Bulloch, who says allowing hunters to use silencers would keep them from disturbing their neighbors. The Ochlocknee Republican says hunters would still have to have a federal permit to possess a silencer and argues this does not create an unfair advantage for hunters.
“As our growth patterns have changed and we’re having more and more residential properties infringing on hunting properties,” Bulloch said. “If you have a silencer on your hunting gun, the noise would not disturb neighbors as bad. This doesn’t really have anything to do with fair chase. It’s about trying to be respectful to people in residential areas.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which Bulloch co-chairs. Sen. Ross Tolleson, a Republican from Perry who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, is the committee’s chairman.
Bulloch said the legislation was brought to him by the National Rifle Association. Reached by telephone, NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford said the organization does support the use of silencers, which she referred to as suppressors.
“There are several benefits to hunting with suppressed firearms,” Samford said. “Suppressors decrease the gunfire noise, which is important because a lot of hunters don’t always wear hearing protection. Suppressors also reduce recoil and muzzle rise. That allows the shooter to get into position for a follow up shot much more quickly and accurately.”
Samford said that silencers do not allow hunters to sneak up on animals because a sound is still emitted.
The NRA successfully pushed for similar legislation last year in Kansas, Louisiana and Washington, and supports legalizing silencers in all 50 states. Silencers are legal to possess and use for lawful purposes in most states, but require a federal permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The permit costs $200.