Who knew there were all these critters left over to kill illegally in Utah, wildlife to spare.
State game wardens these days count a thousand-plus poaching cases a year statewide, animals slaughtered for antlers, teeth, feathers, hide, and meat.
Division of Wildlife Resources officials report the numbers are growing: 958 illegal kills in 2012, 1,327 in 2013, and 1,287 for 2014, with another 50 or more expected to add to the 2014 total as carcasses discovered this year are traced back to last fall.
The numbers from Sept.- Oct.2014
DWR policing statewide during peak hunting time:
• Contacted 29,473 individuals in the field.
• Checked 11,954 hunting and fishing licenses.
• Responded to 467 calls made to the UTiP Hotline (1-800-662-3337).
• Conducted an additional 388 investigations.
• Detected and documented 1,464 violations.
• Issued 748 citations or warning citations.
• Confirmed the illegal taking of 289 game animals and fish, with an aggregate value of more than $301,515.
Source: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
That's at least three, maybe four poaching cases a day statewide, or "illegal taking of protected wildlife" as the charge reads in court. And officials estimate it's severely under-counted.
State conservation officers, as game wardens are now called, in Davis County are still investigating an Oct. 26 case where a dismembered two-point, as in young, buck was found hanging from a tree basically. It was basically cut in half, its hind quarters removed.
It's among the more heinous cases on the DWR website posted on the “Officers On Patrol” link (wildlife.utah.gov) to elicit help from the general public through the Utah Turn in a Poacher (UTiP) Hotline, 800-662-3337.
“Every day we go out we face the possibility of seeing something like that,” said Wyatt Bubak, along with Krystal Tucker, one of two DWR COs assigned to Davis County.
This week the Davis officers had to put down an injured deer — “The call came in as a 3-legged deer,” Bubak said. “We think it was probably hit by a vehicle.” And somebody shot and killed a swan.“We see that a lot, animals just left to waste.”
Mike Kinghorn, Box Elder County CO, said it's far more common to discover headless carcasses. “It's antlers they want,” he said. “Typically that's what drives poaching. It's not for the meat.”
Capt. Rick Olson, the DWR assistant state director, feels poaching is drastically under-reported.
“The numbers represent the animals that are found and documented as illegal kills by our officers,” he said. “We do not know how many other illegally killed animals are never discovered or brought to our attention. Our belief is we only discover a small percentage of illegally killed animals, but we have no actual numbers to verify this.”
The known cases, actually reported to wildlife officials, in the 2014 stats showing 1,287 animals, so far, include 164 deer, and 79 elk, most poached in the last few months. It's a felony charge for the elk and a mature deer.
The 2014 figures count 12 bears and 12 moose among the illegal dead, also a felony, plus four buffalo, one desert tortoise and a pelican, two bald eagles and eight golden eagles.
The 2013 and 2012 figures are similar, with 172 deer poached, and 89 elk in 2013, plus 12 more moose, two bears, a buffalo, another pelican, nine bald eagles and three golden eagles.
The 2012 illegal death toll included 129 deer, 136 elk, eight moose, seven bears, two pelicans, a desert tortoise, one bald eagle and nine golden eagles.
One of the pelican cases is Kinghorn's, assisting on the call in Weber County, which came in at 1400 N. Washington Boulevard, inside the Harrisville City limits last May. It's still listed with Officers on Patrol on the website.
A motorist reported hearing a shot, then seeing the pelican drop from the sky. “We haven't gotten anywhere with that case,” Kinghorn said.
Animal Control was notified, instead of the DWR, and the name of the motorist was lost and the pelican disposed of before the DWR was contacted. “They were extremely apologetic, they were embarrassed,” Kinghorn said. “It's just pelicans are not thought of as game animals. They are never hunted, at any time of year. but they are protected wildlife.”
Weber, like Box Elder and Davis, have only two COs, so they often assist each other.
Olson laments he only has 47 COs patrolling the wilds statewide, with most counties only assigned one. “We're very short-staffed,” he said. “We're at the mercy of the budgetary whims of the Legislature.”
The lack of officers make the UTiP Hotline and the Officers On Patrol link on the website crucial to enforcement.
“The extra eyes and ears not only help officers successfully bring to justice those who exploit our wildlife, but also serve as a deterrent to those who might consider doing so but have to wonder who might be watching,” Olson said. “All of these illegally killed animals are taken, stolen, from the law abiding hunters and fishermen and the general public who may just enjoy watching wildlife.”
And there is reward money, $1,000 from the DWR for information leading to successful poaching prosecutions. For more high profile cases, sportsman groups sometimes get involved to up the bounty to as much as $5,000.
Utah Turn in a Poacher (UTiP) Hotline, 800-662-3337.