Tips can help bring poaching offenders to justice

Sometimes, even the smallest clue leads to a break in a poaching case.

In several recent high-profile poaching cases in Colorado ­­— including the arrest of eight men from Michigan, Indiana and Colorado for extensive, multi-state illegal wildlife activity — the investigation began with a tip from the public, either directly to a wildlife officer or anonymously through Operation Game Thief.

“Many poaching cases are brought to our attention by a concerned hunter or member of the public that has observed illegal activity and has acted responsibly to stop it,” said Michael Blanck, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s district wildlife manager in Collbran.

Officials stress that even the most seemingly insignificant tip can help bring an offender to justice.

“If you think you have seen something suspicious, give us or OGT a call,” Blanck said. “A minor detail can be the missing piece that completes an investigation, or it may be the info we need to begin an investigation that will stop a poacher.”

Law enforcement officials say it’s nearly impossible to estimate the amount of poaching that occurs but some estimates indicate poachers take as much wildlife illegally as that taken by legitimate hunters.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in many cases the criminals take only “trophy” parts (mostly antlers and skulls) and leave the meat to waste.

That alone is a felony offense and could mean time in prison.

Officials also say that although most poachers commit their crimes for profit, others seem to have “darker motives,” including a willful disregard for wildlife regulations or a psychological compulsion.

Many experienced law enforcement officials say that only in extremely rare cases will a poacher illegally kill wildlife for food.

“Poachers are not hunters, they are criminals, plain and simple,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Deputy Regional Manager Dean Riggs said. “They steal wildlife from the citizens of Colorado, take opportunity away from ethical hunters and have a negative impact on wildlife management objectives.”

Riggs added that poachers should be aware that wildlife investigators are “tenacious in their efforts to bring offenders to justice,” using many of the same investigative tools and high-tech forensic methods used by all law enforcement agencies.

As the hunting seasons progress, wildlife officials remind hunters to be observant and report illegal wildlife activity quickly.

The state has 122 wildlife officers, each covering a large territory and relying on the public to report suspicious behavior.

“We have very hard working officers and investigators but they cannot be everywhere,” Velarde added. “We ask the public to helps us manage their wildlife and report illegal wildlife activity as soon as possible.”

Since 1981, Colorado’s Operation Game Thief has received more than 2,400 reports of poaching, resulting in more than 700 convictions. These convictions have netted more than $600,000 in fines and have resulted in the seizure of more than 1,300 illegally taken animals.

Almost $130,000 in rewards has been paid to citizens who reported suspected illegal activity.

To report suspicious wildlife activity, contact Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Verizon phone users can call #OGT.


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