The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources recently implemented new tactics to prevent poaching throughout the state. Poaching is a blanket term used to describe the illegal killing of a wild animal within the state. Poaching can encompass a variety of actions, including hunting in a restricted area, shooting beyond one’s allotment of elk or deer, and the unlicensed shooting of an animal. Many Utah hunters face serious consequences from poaching charges every year such as jail time, fines, licensing issues and the forfeiture of rifles used in poaching.
The number of hunters impacted by Utah’s poaching laws may increase given the DWR’s intensified crackdown on poaching. Recent Utah poaching convictions include a Sevier County resident who pleaded guilty to wanton destruction of protected wildlife and was ordered to pay nearly $1,000 in fines and restitution. Three goose hunters from Weber County were also charged with wanton destruction of protected wildlife for allegedly killing ducks out of season last January. These hunters could lose their hunting licenses for several years if they are convicted.
DWR officials confronted the Weber County goose hunters after a tip from a local resident attracted conservation officers to the scene. The DWR officials arrived at the scene just as the goose hunters were attempting to leave the area.
The DWR has 48 field conservation officers who patrol the state to prevent poaching. The officers will be increasingly assigned to areas with large populations of wild animals that may be vulnerable to illegal hunting.
Most of these officers are not focused on catching poachers in the act of shooting an animal, but rather spend their time investigating reports of poaching. The vast majority of poaching investigations start after concerned citizens report suspicious hunting activities or call in carcasses, or when poachers brag to others about prize kills.
One Juab County DWR conservation officer says that about half of his investigations start with tips he gets in person from people who see him around the community. The other half of the officer’s cases come from tips left on the DWR’s website and phone line. The conservation officer says that up to 80 percent of the tips reveal illegal hunting activities.
Ultimately, the DWR wants to discourage poaching by maintaining a presence in problem areas and making hunters feel that there is a high risk that they will get caught for illegally killing an animal.
“We want people contemplating poaching animals to be worried and looking over their shoulder,” said Mike Fowlks, the DWR’s chief of law enforcement.