Lusk - Two Niobrara County juveniles recently pleaded guilty to several poaching violations resulting in over $96,000 in restitution and loss of hunting privileges for 20 years from 24 counts of Wyoming Game and Fish violations.
In early 2018, the Lusk game warden got a tip from the public to be aware of some high school students that were poaching big game animals. The game warden began investigating individuals based on tips from interviews throughout the community, and he quickly found a large amount of illegal activity.
After narrowing down the individuals that were involved, the Lusk game warden determined that this case was much larger than expected. “At first I thought it might be a few wildlife that were poached, like small game and maybe an out of season big game animal, but the list of offenses just kept growing,” said the game warden.
Evidence showed that there were over 150 violations each, including illegal take of songbirds, raptors, small game, furbearers and big game, along with wasting of game meat. The two suspects took over limits, shot game out of season and without licenses. They also violated fair chase and safety laws like shooting from the road, trespassing, spotlighting, used illegal calibers, and shot road signs. This was a year-round killing spree, with total disregard for wildlife and private property.
One juvenile from Niobrara County pled guilty to 12 counts of Game and Fish violations. There were over 56 initial counts that were reduced to 12 in a plea agreement. They ranged from wanton destruction of big game to knowingly taking an antlered big game animal without a license. Nine of these counts were under Wyoming Statute 23-3-102(d), which is any person who knowingly takes any antlered elk, antlered deer, antlered moose, horned antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, grizzly bear or black bear without the proper license or during a closed season. This statute provides for some of the stiffest penalties of any Game and Fish violation and is reserved for only the most serious offenses.
The second juvenile also pled guilty to 12 counts after the plea agreement reduced the initial 56 violations to 12. These violations were similar in nature and included five counts of W.S. 23-3-102(d).
“As I look back at my time as a game warden, this case is the largest poaching case in my career and even in the state in recent history. I hope these young adults can learn from their mistakes,” says the game warden. “Each offense takes away opportunity from a person who buys a license and legally hunts. People in Wyoming take these offences seriously.”
In addition to the restitution, they will be spending 90 days in jail over the next year at the Niobrara County Detention Center; they shall not have firearms, archery equipment, ammunition or black powdered rifles for a period of 20 years. They will be on probation for 10-years that includes not possessing drugs or alcohol or associate with individuals who use drugs or alcohol. They were also fined $60,000 that was suspended. Hunting, fishing, trapping and the ability to purchase preference points privileges were also revoked for 20 years.
All suspended fines, jail time and probation for each defendant along with the 44 counts of game and fish violations that were initially charged towards each defendant are available to the Niobrara County Court for future judgment if the defendants’ violate their probation.
Game and Fish would like to commend the Niobrara County Attorney’s Office for their hard work and support in this prosecution. They were thorough and fair and worked tirelessly to ensure the interests of the people of the state of Wyoming were met as well as coming up with a sentence that will allow these two young people to redeem themselves and have an opportunity to turn their lives around.
This case demonstrates the importance of poaching reports from the public. The entire investigation was started with a Stop Poaching tip. This stresses how important it is for members of the public to contact the Game and Fish if they have any information about possible poaching crimes.
Anyone with information on a wildlife crime can call the Stop Poaching Tip Line at 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847). Tips may also be reported online at http://wgfd.wyo.gov, or by text at TIP411. Informants can choose to remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward for information leading to an arrest.