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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wildlife officers: tough job of finding poachers

Omak, Wash. (AP) - In an office building in Omak, Dan Christensen sits in front of two computers. On one, he's filling out a damage complaint for deer that got into a nearby orchard. On the other, he's recovering digital photographs erased from a memory card that may contain important evidence. The $4,500 thumbdrive that helps him reconstruct a photograph was developed to investigate child pornography.

But Christensen isn't looking for people who make and distribute child porn. He's trying to find the people who poach deer, bait bear, or kill wolves.

As a law enforcement officer for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, he uses the same tools available to other police. He sets up stakeouts, gets search warrants, gathers DNA and fingerprint evidence, and uses a variety of surveillance techniques. He's one of two Wildlife officers in the state trained in computer forensics. Some of the cases he investigates are as complex as major crimes..

"People think we're driving around through the woods, talking to the deer. That's really not the case,'' Christensen says. "Most all of us have worked everything from homicides to missing children.''

The 150 commissioned officers who work for Fish and Wildlife cover everything from commercial fishing in the Columbia River and Puget Sound to hunting violations in the wilds of Eastern Washington. They respond to cougar complaints and marijuana grows. Their reach extends from the Canadian border to the international waters with Mexico, where they have jurisdiction over any vessel registered in Washington state

"Our law enforcement officers have more authority than any other in the state of Washington,'' says Mike Cenci, the agency's deputy chief of enforcement.

As general authority police, his officers have jurisdiction to enforce all state laws, and the authority to inspect boats or containers without a warrant, similar to that of a U.S. Customs agent.

It's one of the most dangerous police jobs because nearly everyone they come in contact with is armed. And, they are often alone, with the nearest backup sometimes hours away.
"If someone has the inclination to hurt you in this field, the risks of that happening are very high,'' Cenci says.
Christensen says people who violate fish and wildlife laws usually know they're breaking the law. It's surprising how many are arrogant about it. "We are not out arresting people who are trying to feed their family,'' he says. "It's about that person who thinks they're above the law.''

To find those people, Wildlife officers do patrol rivers and lakes and hunting grounds. But they also rely on the public to provide tips about poachers or other people violating wildlife laws. And with today's technology, those people use cell phones to take photos of the evidence, or the violator's license plate to provide them with proof.

Often, Christensen says, the violators themselves provide the best evidence.In the case against a Western Washington man who was baiting bears to his cabin near Winthrop so he could shoot them from his porch, Wildlife officers used photos from his own trail camera to show what he'd been doing.
Unlike many other crimes, wildlife offenders often document their crimes. "They've got to take a picture to brag,'' Christensen says.

He says people often ask why they aren't out arresting the real criminals. But wildlife crimes are real crimes, he says. The 10 percent who violate the law make it unfair for the 90 percent who follow it. "We really just seek fairness,'' he says.

As part of the job, Wildlife officers gather a lot of evidence, and try to submit a thorough case to the prosecutor. That's partly because they're competing with other agencies to get their cases charged and heard by a judge.

"For me to get something into court, I know I have to have a really good case,'' Christensen says. "If somebody smacks his wife, it's a no-brainer. But I'm having to compete with a case where the state's the victim,'' he says.

Clay Hill, a deputy prosecutor for Okanogan County, says he's impressed with the level of investigation of the wildlife cases he's prosecuted. "They set up sting operations with dummy wildlife. They use undercover cops to infiltrate hunting camps,'' he says. "That's more than your average traffic cop. It's some pretty high-level detective work.''

One case involving a taxidermist practicing without a license required them to break a code he was using to keep records. "They traced receipts back to Oregon,'' he says. Wildlife cases tend to be more complex than other district court cases he prosecutes because they often involve multiple parties, and can include hundreds of recovered photographs. A poaching case to determine who shot a deer in the field may start with gathering DNA evidence and the bullet, continue with canvassing the area to find out if there were witnesses, and end up with search warrants, seized computers and rifles for ballistics tests.

"Metal detectors, DNA forensics, seized digital images, multiple search warrants _ those sorts of cases are becoming commonplace for Department of Fish and Wildlife officers in our detachment,'' Hill says.
Wildlife officer Dan Klump graduated from Cascade High School in Leavenworth, and growing up, he often rode along with his father, Larry Klump, a game warden for 32 years.

He remembers using his first tranquilizer gun as a senior in high school, when he helped his father sedate a bear on Blackbird Island. He knew then that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and went on to get the law enforcement training he needed. Today, he has his father's badge and number, Wildlife 101.
But the job he has now is quite different from his father's. "If you saw the vehicles that game wardens had back in the early `70s, compared to what we drive today, you'd say, `You guys are expected to drive on those roads with that?''' And it's not just the trucks. "From pay and benefits to equipment and training, they have come around tenfold,'' he says.

Klump says one of the biggest changes has come with computer technology. That means more time writing reports, he says. Even an easy citation - someone fishing with two poles without an endorsement - will result in about 20 minutes of writing reports. And a case that's just a little more complex _ someone who shot a deer in an orchard - will take two to four hours of gathering evidence and writing reports. That includes taking photos, gathering shell casings and DNA evidence, getting witness statements, writing it up and entering it into the computer.

But that pays off when he's trying to find out if someone is a repeat offender. "If a guy here gets a ticket in Western Washington, it shows up on this central system,'' he says. He credits his agency's Enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork with turning the agency from a ticket-writing to an investigative one, with a focus on solid police work.

Cenci says the changes are largely a result of changing priorities. People are more environmentally conscious today, he says, and they want their natural resources protected. "Remember, there were times when certain species were considered varmints, and today they've got a completely different status,'' he says. "I'm sure when Lewis and Clark came through the Washington Territory, they looked at our vast expanses of forests and thought, `This is endless. You could cut trees down forever and never have an impact.'''
But although the title has changed, and today's wildlife officers are better trained in law enforcement, the public's perception hasn't caught up.

Indeed, many people still call them game wardens, a term they haven't used for years. It's a name that's linked to a far simpler time, Cenci says, adding, "This isn't the Wild West anymore, where anything goes.''

Monday, April 29, 2013

Action plans for 16 species ready for review

Florida’s wildlife diversity is reflected in the 16 species of birds, mammals, fish, frogs and snakes whose draft action plans are ready for public review and comment.

The Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane and Big Cypress and Sherman’s fox squirrels are included in the third group of plans to conserve imperiled species unveiled this year by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The brown pelican, gopher frog, Florida pine snake, Florida mouse, Sherman’s short-tailed shrew, short-tailed snake, Florida bog frog, Georgia blind salamander, Atlantic sturgeon, key silverside, saltwater top minnow and mangrove rivulus are also in this group.

The draft plans and the opportunity to provide input online can be accessed at MyFWC.com/Imperiled. The deadline for commenting on these plans is June 7. The fourth and final group of draft species action plans is scheduled for release in May.

The FWC will revise a total of 49 action plans covering 60 species based on the public’s input. While individual species’ action plans will not be approved by the Commission, they are the first step in identifying individual species threats and needs. The next step will be developing integrated conservation strategies that address shared priorities in areas such as wildlife management, habitat conservation and research that will benefit many species. Ultimately, the outcome will be an Imperiled Species Management Plan providing a set of tools that the FWC can use to work with the public and partners to ensure all 60 species are conserved as part of Florida’s wildlife legacy. The final Imperiled Species Management Plan is scheduled for approval by the Commission in spring 2015.

“Conserving Florida wildlife requires attention to the diversity of species that inhabit our waters, land and air,” said Claire Sunquist Blunden, the FWC’s stakeholder coordinator for the Imperiled Species Management Plan. “We are excited about the public’s opportunity to review these 16 draft action plans and suggest ways to improve them.”

The Florida burrowing owl population, for instance, is projected to decline. Conservation guidelines are suggested in the draft plan to help this pint-sized species averaging 9 inches in height. The only subspecies of burrowing owl east of the Mississippi River spends most of its time on the ground or taking refuge in its burrow. It is often found on farms, airports and golf courses that have replaced its historic Florida prairie habitat. The principal range of the Florida burrowing owl is peninsular Florida, but it can be found in isolated pairs and colonies as far west as Eglin Air Force Base and as far south as Key West.

For the Florida sandhill crane, which can stretch to nearly 4 feet tall, a key priority in the draft plan is to stabilize and grow its population by maintaining shallow wetlands for roosting and nesting and open habitats for foraging. Florida sandhill cranes are particularly at risk because of their low annual reproductive rate. Their population is concentrated in peninsular Florida, from Alachua County southward to the Everglades’ northern edge. Available habitat has declined in those areas by 42 percent from 1974 to 2003. While this species is a candidate for federal listing, the FWC’s proposed conservation actions may preclude the need for that.

There are two subspecies of sandhill crane in this state. The Florida sandhill crane, with an estimated population of 4,000 to 5,000, is a year-round resident that nests here during late winter and spring on mats of vegetation about 2 feet in diameter in shallow water. It is joined every winter by 25,000 greater sandhill cranes – larger migratory birds that nest in the Great Lakes region.

The plan for the Florida sandhill crane proposes working cooperatively with ranchers, whose private lands are a stronghold of this species, and using traffic-calming measures such as caution signs to prevent vehicle collisions with cranes, which often forage along roadways.

Meanwhile, the Big Cypress fox squirrel is experiencing loss, degradation and fragmentation of its southwest Florida habitat, which is increasingly urbanized.

The Sherman’s fox squirrel has similar habitat challenges over a wider swath of Florida, with its range extending from the Big Bend in north Florida into most of peninsular Florida. Biologists are in the process of gathering genetic information about the Big Cypress and Sherman’s species of fox squirrels. Significant information about where fox squirrels are in Florida came after citizens responded to the FWC’s request to report fox squirrel sightings online, resulting in 4,221 sighting locations logged from August 2011 to April 2012.

For more information on the Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane and Big Cypress and Sherman’s fox squirrels, including the fox squirrel survey, go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife and click on “Species Profiles.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Detector dogs trained to sniff out illegal wildlife shipments

Miami — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a message for would-be wildlife traffickers: There’s a new dog in town, and if you try to bring illegal wildlife parts into the country, there’s a good chance he’s going to sniff you out.  And there are more just like him.

Last week, the first class of “wildlife detector dogs” and their handlers graduated from training in searching for protected species. In coming weeks, they will be stationed at key ports of entry around the country, searching for wildlife smuggled across U.S. borders. The four retrievers – named Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket – have been trained as part of a national effort to stem the growing trade in threatened animal parts such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.

“The recent rapid growth in the global trade in protected wildlife is pushing some species perilously close to extinction. Elephant and rhino populations in particular are declining at alarming rates,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Ed Grace. “The battle to stop wildlife smuggling is one we simply cannot afford to lose, and using dogs and their phenomenal sense of smell to catch smugglers will give us a real leg up in this effort.”

The use of dogs in law enforcement isn’t new.  Dogs are already used to detect illegal fruits and food products, bombs and drugs.  Some have even been trained to track down pythons that are invading Florida’s Everglades.  Training dogs to find smuggled wildlife products was the next step.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the nation’s wildlife laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, and is responsible for U.S. enforcement of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  This agreement between 178 countries restricts cross-border trade in protected wild animals and plants, from elephants and rhinos to Brazilian rosewood and wild orchids.

Service inspectors monitor declared wildlife shipments and work to intercept smuggled wildlife and wildlife products.  Inspectors examine imports and exports at U.S. international airports, ocean ports, border crossings, international mail facilities, and FedEx and UPS processing centers. Using dogs will give inspectors a whole new capacity to quickly scan air, rail, and ocean cargo, as well as international mail and express delivery packages, declared or not, without the time-consuming need to open each crate, box, or parcel.

The four graduating dogs and their Service Wildlife Inspector-Handlers completed the 13-week training course at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Detector Dog Training Center in Newnan, Ga., half an hour southwest of Atlanta. The center normally trains detector dogs to sniff out fruits and plants to interdict potential insects or diseases that could hurt U.S. agriculture. For the Wildlife Inspector-Handlers, this is a new and exciting venture.

“This gives me a chance to combine my two great loves, wildlife and dogs,” said Amir Lawal, Wildlife Inspector at the port of Miami.  “I can’t wait to get started in the field with my new partner to stop illegal wildlife shipments.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Don't adopt a 'lost' fawn, it's illegal and likely not abandoned

If a deer fawn is found alone in the woods, leave it there, advises a state wildlife biologist. Its mother has not abandoned it; she is probably nearby. Removing a fawn from the forest is also illegal because the animal is being taken outside the legal season for taking deer, which is the hunting season.

"Many people who come upon a solitary spotted fawn in the woods or along a roadway mistakenly assume the animal has been deserted by its mother and want to take the apparently helpless creature home to care for it," said Charles Ruth, Deer/Turkey Project supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Young fawns like this have not been abandoned but are still in the care of a doe."

The apparently "helpless" deer fawns born during April, May and June in South Carolina will begin daily movements with their mothers in about three or four weeks. Human handling and disturbance of fawns can cause a doe to shy away or even desert her offspring. Also, a bleating response by the fawn can summon nearby predators.

"It’s part of nature’s plan for a doe deer to leave her fawn or fawns alone for their first few weeks of life," Ruth said. "The reason for this unusual maternal action is that the fawn at this age is better protected away from the doe. The presence of the doe nearby would attract predators because the doe lacks the protective coloration of the fawn, and the older and larger doe has a much stronger odor."

A fawn that appears abandoned is merely awaiting a visit from its mother, according to Ruth. A doe, after brief periods of feeding and grooming her fawn, will spend much of her day feeding and resting somewhat removed from her young. The fawn ordinarily stays bedded down as if sleeping, but will occasionally move short distances to new bedding sites.

"Each spring and summer the DNR gets many calls from people who have discovered these ‘lost’ deer," Ruth said. "Young fawns are without a doubt cute and cuddly, but if taken into captivity they grow into semi-tame adult deer that can become quite dangerous." Adult buck deer, no matter how they were raised, are especially dangerous during the breeding season. Even does raised by humans are unpredictable. Occasionally "tame" deer seriously injure people, according to Ruth, and in cases where the deer are a threat to humans, the deer sometimes have to be killed.

People often ask the DNR if it needs deer fawns for its research projects. Ruth said although the DNR is actively engaged in deer research, current studies do not use captive animals.

Monday, April 22, 2013

White-Tailed Deer Management Zones

Research indicates the prior 4-point law allowed the harvest of better quality yearling bucks, while protecting older-aged spikes and 3-point bucks. The result has been a decrease in antler size within age classes of older bucks. The combination of the 4-point law, high hunting pressure, and lower reproduction results in the over-harvest of bucks and a decrease in antler size. To prevent these problems, yearling bucks must be allowed to reach older age classes.

These current antler criteria will protect almost 100% of the 1½ year old bucks. This protection will prevent over-harvest of bucks and will improve antler size as bucks get older. These protected bucks will improve skewed buck:doe ratios, resulting in higher reproduction. Zone lines are based on soil regions using highways and interstates as dividing boundaries.

Hill Zone

Private and open public lands east of I-55 and north of I-20 plus areas south of I-20 and east of U.S. Highway 61, excluding areas south of U.S. Highway 84 and east of MS Highway 35.

Southeast Zone
Private and open public lands south of U.S. Highway 84 and east of MS Highway 35.

Delta Zone
Private and open public lands west of I-55 and north of I-20 plus areas south of I-20 and west of U.S. Highway 61.

Bag Limits
Antlered Buck Deer: The bag limit on antlered buck deer is one (1) buck per day, not to exceed three (3) per license year. Legal bucks must meet the antler criteria within the appropriate deer management zone. For youth hunters fifteen (15) years of age and younger, hunting on private land and authorized state and federal lands, all three (3) of the three (3) buck bag limit may be any antlered deer. Antlerless Deer: The bag limit on antlerless deer is one (1) per day, not to exceed five (5) per license year. Spotted fawns are not to be killed or molested at any time.

Spotted fawns are not to be killed or molested at any time.
 


LEGAL BUCKS

Hill and Southeast Zones
A legal buck is defined as having either a minimum inside spread of 10 inches or one main beam at least 13 inches long.


 Delta Zone
A legal buck is defined as having either a minimum inside spread of 12 inches or one main beam at least 15 inches long.





Special Deer Hunts
The Commission finds there is a surplus deer population in the State of Mississippi. Special primitive weapons and archery deer hunts are established pursuant to the authority granted the Commission in Sections 49-7-37(2), (3), & (4), Mississippi Code of 1972. All archery and primitive weapons hunters must wear hunter orange while these special hunts are in effect.

Special Primitive Weapons Hunt
This season is for Antlerless Deer Only on private lands and open public lands. Legal weapons are primitive weapons and crossbows. This hunt is not on MDWFP Wildlife Management Areas.

Special Archery Hunt
These hunts allow archery hunters the ability to legally use archery equipment during gun and primitive weapons seasons. For years, the MDWFP had the impression that it could allow the use of a “lesser weapon” like bow and arrow and/or primitive weapons during the regular gun seasons. An Attorney General’s opinion was issued in June 2010 that stated the Commission does not have the authority to allow the use of bow and arrows during any other deer hunting season, such as primitive weapons or regular gun season. However, the Commission does have the authority to have Special Hunts which gives archery hunters the ability to hunt during the gun seasons.

Legal Weapons
Archery: Longbows, recurves, and compound bows. There is no minimum or maximum draw weight. There is no minimum arrow length. Fixed or mechanical broadheads may be used.

Primitive Weapons
Weapons legal for use during the Primitive Weapons season are crossbows, by Special or General Permit, and primitive firearms. “Primitive firearms,” for the purpose of hunting deer, are defined as single or double barreled muzzle-loading rifles of at least .38 caliber; OR single shot, breech loading, metallic cartridge rifles (.35 caliber or larger) and replicas, reproductions, or reintroductions of those type rifles with an exposed hammer; OR single or double- barreled muzzle-loading shotguns, with single ball or slug. All muzzle-loading primitive firearms must use black powder or a black powder substitute with percussion caps, #209 shotgun primers, or flintlock ignition.

“Blackpowder substitute” is defined as a substance designed, manufactured, and specifically intended to be used as a propellant in muzzleloading or other black powder firearms, excluding modern smokeless powder. Metallic cartridges may be loaded with either black powder or modern smokeless powder (cartridges purchased at sporting goods stores).

Telescopic sights are allowed while hunting with any primitive firearm during the primitive weapon seasons.

Gun
There are no caliber or magazine capacity restrictions on firearms. Crossbows, by Special or General Permit, and primitive firearms may be used during Gun seasons.

Hunter Orange
When hunting deer during any primitive weapon or gun season on deer, all deer hunters must wear in full view at least five hundred (500) square inches of solid unbroken fluorescent orange. Note: Mesh-style or orange-camouflage is not considered unbroken and does not count toward the five hundred (500) square inch minimum. This requirement shall not apply to a hunter while the hunter is in a fully enclosed deer stand.

Federal Lands–Youth Hunts and Antlerless Harvest
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed lands which designate the youth deer season in their regulations and open U.S. Forest Service National Forest lands are authorized to provide youth hunting opportunities.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Army managed lands are authorized to harvest antlerless deer on days designated by Federal Regulations. Contact local National Wildlife Refuge, Corps of Engineers, or U.S. Army for details.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Deer and turkey check-in changes for 2013 hunting season

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) encourages hunters to educate themselves about Ohio’s new game tagging and checking procedure for the 2013-2014 hunting seasons.
These changes provide a more consistent tagging process between exempt landowners and those using a permit. The new game check process applies to spring turkey, fall turkey and white-tailed deer hunting seasons.

A new feature this year is that hunters will need to make their own game tag to attach to the turkey or deer. Game tags can be made of any material (cardboard, plastic, paper, etc.) as long as it contains the hunter’s name, date, time and county of kill. The ODNR Division of Wildlife has a blank game tag available at wildohio.com, which is suitable for the tagging and checking process.

Follow these steps when tagging wildlife during the upcoming spring hunting seasons:
Protect permits and game tags from the elements by placing them in a plastic bag or protective pouch before hunting.

Landowners and permit holders must complete a game tag immediately upon harvest and prior to moving the animal. The game tag must include the hunter’s full name, date, time and county of kill. Hunters need to make their own tag from any material they choose, and write legibly with an ink pen or permanent marker.
Attach the game tag to the animal immediately upon harvest and prior to moving it.

Permit holders must complete the spring turkey permit with the date, time and county of kill. Those exempt from purchasing a permit can ignore this steps. Complete the automated game check process and receive an 18-digit confirmation number. Permit holders must record this number on the permit.
The 18-digit confirmation number must also be attached to the animal. Hunters may also choose to write the number on the game tag. All hunters must report their turkey harvest using the automated game check system.

Hunters have three options to complete the game check: Online at wildohio.com or ohiogamecheck.com;
By telephone at 877-TAG-ITOH (877-824-4864). This option is only available to those who are required to have a permit to hunt turkeys; and At all license agents. A list of these agents can be found at wildohio.com.
Game-check transactions will be available online and by telephone seven days a week including holidays. License agents’ locations will be available for turkey check-in during normal business hours. Hunters can call the license agent for specific hours of operation. All turkeys must be checked in by 11:30 p.m. the day of the kill.

Landowners exempt from purchasing a turkey permit, and any other person not required to purchase a turkey permit, cannot use the phone-in option.

More information, including a pamphlet explaining the process, is available at wildohio.com. Hunters with questions can also call 800-WILDLIFE (800-945-3543).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Turkey Hunting Safety

Turkey hunting is a pleasurable sport enjoyed by Hoosiers for more than three decades. During this time, Indiana has never had a fatal turkey hunting accident. However, a few Hoosier turkey hunters are injured in shooting accidents every year.

 Surprisingly, national studies show that most turkey season shooting incidents on persons involve experienced hunters who accidentally fire on their own hunting partners. The studies also show most turkey hunting shooting accidents occur on private land.

Did you know...
  • Most shooting accidents take place at 11-50 yards when the shooter failed to properly identify the target.
  • About two-thirds of all incidents occurred on private land.
  • Shooters involved in these incidents were, on average, 45 years old with 30 years of hunting experience and 16 years of turkey hunting experience.
  • Victims, on average, were 43 years old with 13 years of turkey hunting experience.
Review and follow the Turkey Hunting Safety Rules as part of your annual spring turkey preparation. Make a copy for your camp or hunting vehicle. Review them frequently before and during the season.

It is the responsibility of each hunter to help make our state one of the safer places to hunt wild turkeys in the spring.



  • Select a calling position where you can see for at least 50 yards in all directions and where you are protected from the backside.
  • Whistle or shout to alert approaching hunters of your position. Never wave or stand up.
  • Never sneak in on a turkey or use a gobbler call near other hunters. Never crowd another hunter working a bird.
  • Never shoot at sound or movement.
  • Use a flashlight when walking in the dark.
  • Be aware of turkey "fever" and its prevention. Disregard peer pressure to bag a bird.
  • Be extremely careful using turkey decoys.
  • Do not wear red, white, or blue outer wear or exposed inner clothing.
  • Make sure your headnet doesn't obscure your vision.
  • Don't assume you are the only hunter in the area. Be certain of a companion's location.
  • Know and identify your target and what is beyond.
  • Discuss safety techniques with companions.
  • Never assume that other hunters are responsible.
  • Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  • Always keep your gun unloaded until ready to use.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs before or while hunting.
  • Respect property rights and secure permission before hunting.
  • Hunters should unload their guns when crossing fences, climbing into stands, jumping ditches or traversing steep ravines.