COEUR d’ALENE — A Mica Bay man accused of killing a moose out of season was convicted by a jury after a two-day trial earlier this month in Coeur d’Alene.
But before he could be sentenced, John A. Huckabay, 65, flew to Africa where he works in the medical field.
The court expects him back April 27 for sentencing.
Huckabay is accused of killing a cow moose Oct. 2, 2014 near Red Hog Road at Mica Bay, on the northwest side of Lake Coeur d’Alene. He pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial.
Penalties and fines for killing a moose out of season include a $1,500 civil penalty and a $500 fine and no more than six months in jail. His hunting privileges could be revoked for a year, or up to life, at the discretion of the court.
Huckabay, who works in Africa for a University of Washington medical evaluation program that studies the spread of disease, is known to neighbors and Idaho Fish and Game as someone who likes to hunt.
Over the past decade Huckabay has been a fervent supporter of Idaho Fish and Game by purchasing a slew of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits.
The department said he had a tag in 2014 for moose in Unit 2 along the Spokane River, but not for Unit 5 near Mica Bay where the cow moose was killed after some neighbors reported it had become a nuisance.
Huckabay was charged after neighbors heard a rifle shot and later saw Huckabay hoisting a moose into the bed of a teal-colored pickup truck near Red Hog Road.
In an ensuing investigation Idaho Fish and Game officers found the spot where the moose was reportedly shot and killed and followed evidence to a skinned moose hanging at the shop of a butcher with a private operation in Coeur d’Alene.
A conservation officer stuck a thermostat in the meat to determine when the animal was killed, and DNA evidence showed it was from a cow moose, according to court testimony. Evidence pointed to a match between the moose at the butcher’s and the moose shot at Red Hog Road.
Fish and Game officers testified that Huckabay had been contacted by a neighbor about a problem moose, and allegedly told the neighbor he had a tag, that the season was open, although the season in that unit did not open for another two weeks. A short time later, according to testimony, Huckabay told the neighbor he had shot the moose.
After the trial, Huckabay, who has no previous criminal history, posted a $20,000 bond and was returned his passport so he could return to work overseas.
Before his next court appearance, Huckabay will travel to Madagascar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore before returning to Coeur d’Alene to face First District Senior Judge Ben Simpson for sentencing.
Authorities are cracking down on poaching in Oregon.
OREGON STATE POLICE
A program to reward people who report poaching had a successful year in 2017.
OREGON STATE POLICE
The program known as Turn in Poachers saw an uptick in rewards last year.
OREGON STATE POLICE
Authorities credit advertising on social media and local publications with getting the word out about the incentive program to report poaching.
A statewide campaign that encourages people to inform on poachers just had the most robust year in its 32-year history.
The Turn in Poachers fund — a collaboration between the Oregon Hunters Association, Oregon State Police and state Department of Fish and Wildlife — rewarded $24,200 in 50 cases last year. That’s more than double the average amount, according to the hunter’s association. The number of cases typically ranges from 20 to 35 in a given year.
Clatsop County had one reward case in 2017. An informant received $500 for information about an elk shot in an area where hunting is not allowed. Poaching issues in the county mainly center on Roosevelt Elk and blacktail deer, since those animals are the most popular big game for hunters, said Sgt. Joe Warwick of the state police’s fish and wildlife division.
The Albany area had the highest number of rewards at 11.
Pinpointing why hunters report more or fewer poaching cases can be difficult. Not all poaching convictions are a result of tips, and not all informants accept rewards.
“We don’t know much about the informants,” Dungannon said. “They give the tip, we write the check and we send it to them.”
Dungannon suggests recent raises in reward money may be a factor in last year’s spike. Standard amounts range from $100 for game fish, shellfish, upland birds, waterfowl and fur-bearers to $1,000 for bighorn sheep, mountain goats and moose.
Dungannon also pointed to the state police’s efforts to advertise the program on social media and in local publications.
“There are things that officers can do to take the game to the next level and get the word out to the community,” Dungannon said.
Nearly all of the fund’s financial support comes from courts ordering those convicted of violations to pay restitution. The hunter’s association and other conservation groups also pitch in when unusually large award amounts are requested.
A bill pending in the state Legislature may help on that front. While judges already impose fines for misdemeanor offenses, the bill would lay out a precedent to impose such fines in addition to any jail or prison sentence. It also would give the state the ability to deny licenses, tags and permits if fines are not repaid.
“This removes any doubt from the court that they’re able to assess the restitution to the state and to the TIP fund,” Dungannon said.
To continue its growth, police and others who run the fund can think of ways to incentivize hunters to turn in suspected poachers.
“It’s a big deal to take home an elk,” Warwick said. “We need to tell them, ‘That bull elk that guy poached, that’s a bull you could have caught legally.’”
A Central New York man was recently charged with 11 different offenses under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law and faces fines of up to $11,500 for illegally shooting three bucks with a bow and a crossbow.
Two of the deer were reportedly killed in his backyard over bait.
The case first came to attention of DEC officers after Dean P. Brutcher Jr., 34 of DeWitt, boasted on three Facebook posts about killing two, 8-point bucks during the archery season, according to the DEC. A state hunting license only allows a hunter to take one buck during the archery season.
An investigation into Brutcher’s Facebook posts was initiated by state Environmental Conservation Officer Don Damrath. As Damrath was attempting to locate Brutcher, the man posted a photo of a third buck taken on his Facebook page, the biggest of the three deer.
The ECO caught up with Brutcher at his home “late in the evening (on Dec. 22) and the man produced three, 8-point racks to go along with a poorly concocted story about how and where he killed the deer.”
According to the DEC, “ECO Damrath determined two of the three deer were killed over bait in the backyard of the man’s house in a nearby suburban neighborhood. One of the bucks was taken with a crossbow during the archery only season, and one of the bucks was never tagged. None of the deer were reported.”
Damrath seized all three sets of antlers.
Brutcher was charged with taking big game in excess of the bag limit; unlawful possession of protected wildlife; failure to report deer take within 7 days (three counts); take/kill deer wrong implement; unlawful deer kill (two counts); hunt over bait (two counts); entice deer to feed (within) 300 feet (of a) highway.
Five of the above offenses are misdemeanors. Brutcher faces an additional misdemeanor charge for signing a false statement, DEC said.
Along with the above charges, Brutcher also faces loss of his hunting privileges.
Meanwhile, DeWitt officials in late October approved a plan to use federal sharpshooters to hunt and kill deer in targeted areas of the community.
The town’s plan was recently approved by the DEC and culling of the herd is expected to start soon at seven undisclosed locations.
Most big-game hunters can go their entire lives and never get a chance to legally shoot one of Utah’s desert bighorn sheep, a privilege reserved for fewer than 40 lucky hunters each year.
After 21 failed tries, Arizona big-game hunting guide Larry Altimus finally landed such a permit in 2014 soon after taking up residence in Kanab, the Utah town on the Arizona line in the heart of desert bighorn country. But a jury later determined that Altimus was merely pretending to be a Utah resident for the sake of taking one of the state’s most valuable wildlife trophies.
In addition to a felony conviction and more than $30,000 in fines and restitution, the act of fraud will also now cost Altimus his hunting privileges, under a recent decision by a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hearing officer. The ban will apply not just in Utah, but 46 other states as well.
While Altimus may still guide hunting clients, he cannot hunt for the next 10 years, according to DWR spokesman Mark Hadley.
“He not only stole the permit. He used the permit he wasn’t entitled to to kill an animal,” Hadley said.
Based in the southeast Arizona town of Pearce, Altimus, 69, operates his company Hunter Application Service and guides hunters in pursuit of trophy animals in several Western states. Altimus, who did not return a phone message Monday, has hunted and guided hundreds of times in the Southwest and has appeared on industry magazine covers with his trophies.
Bighorn sheep are among the most coveted big-game species to hunt. Utah’s system for issuing tags for such hunts gives an advantage to those who have tried and failed to get permits in past years.
Hunters earn a bonus point each time they unsuccessfully apply for a particular big-game species. Altimus actively sought these Utah tags, and by 2013, he had amassed 21 points toward a desert bighorn sheep, more points than earned by any in-state hunter, according to court records.
Even with this trove of points, the chance Altimus would draw a nonresident bighorn sheep permit were still slim.
“But if he claimed residency in Utah, he knew he had a good chance of drawing a permit reserved for Utah residents,” said DWR director Mike Fowlks.
Under Utah law, however, hunters are not to obtain a resident hunting permit if they move to the state for a “special or temporary purpose.” As someone who makes a living helping clients obtain hunting tags, Altimus was well aware of the rules, according to Kane County prosecutor Jeff Stott.
At trial last July, Stott had to convince a jury that Altimus knowingly took steps to illegally game Utah’s system for awarding sheep tags, which can auction for as high as $70,000.
In 2014, according to DWR data, 5,174 Utah hunters vied for 35 desert bighorn tags, while 7,184 nonresidents vied for three.
“This is a big tag,” Stott said. “It’s huge in the hunting world.”
Big enough, it appears, for Altimus to uproot his life for a few months.
In August 2013, he rented a house in Kanab, moved his belongings there and obtained a Utah driver license, according to Stott. Using the Kanab address, Altimus applied the following March, not long after meeting the six-month threshold for residency, and drew a permit to take a bighorn from the famed Zion hunting unit — just one of 11 awarded that year.
“We proved it was all for this permit,” Stott said. A few weeks after winning the tag, Altimus moved back to Arizona, then returned for the fall hunt, where he bagged a ram.
After three days of testimony in Kanab’s 6th District Court, the jury returned a guilty verdict for wanton destruction of wildlife, a third-degree felony. Judge Wallace Lee ordered Altimus to pay DWR $30,000 in restitution, payable in monthly payments of $1,000 as part of his three months on probation. He also lost his right to possess a firearm and hunt in Utah during that period. Officials had already seized the ram trophy, whose prodigious horns curled into a full circle.
But the real punishment was meted out by DWR, which filed a petition to revoke Altimus’ hunting privileges for 10 years in the states participating in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, which includes all 50 states but Delaware, Massachusetts and Hawaii.
A hearing officer affirmed the recommendation, although the order could be appealed to the Utah Wildlife Board.
ANCHORAGE — A Poulsbo man charged earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Alaska is being accused of illegally leading a hunt for Dall sheep inside a national park and falsifying documents.
Jeffrey Harris, 44, also allegedly wrote to another man, who was also charged, that he planned to plant two dead rabbits, tainted with a substance called xylitol that is poisonous to wolves and coyotes, at a bear baiting station. Xylitol is a sweetener that is deadly to canines and birds, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska.
“Let them snatch them and have a sweet treat,” Harris allegedly wrote in a Facebook message, obtained by federal investigators according to court documents. Harris was charged for the poisoning as well.
Harris was employed as a horse wrangler and maintenance worker for Ptarmigan Lake Lodge, which provided guided hunting trips at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the country’s largest national park. Harris, who was not authorized to guide hunts, is accused of illegally leading in 2014 one of the hunts that resulted in the shooting of a sheep. Harris is then accused of falsifying documents to hide his involvement. The person who shot the sheep paid $4,000.
Harris is also accused of illegally trafficking a harvested blonde grizzly bear, then knowingly filing falsified reports, misstating the date the bear was shot as it was out of season, according to court documents.
Two other men were charged in connection to the case, Dale Lackner, 72, from Haines, Alaska, and Casey Richardson, 47, from Huson, Montana.
South African authorities long had eyes on Rogers Mukwena. They knew the former schoolteacher was wanted in Zimbabwe for poaching rhinoceroses and selling their horns, which can command hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He’d jumped bail and fled to northern Pretoria, but it was vexingly difficult to catch and prosecute him — until a scientist helped make the case against him with rhino DNA.
His subsequent conviction resulted from a new tactic in wildlife preservation: The genetic fingerprinting methods that have been so successful in the criminal justice system are now being used to solve poaching crimes.
First, researchers in South Africa had to build a large database of genetic samples drawn from African rhinoceroses. The DNA would be used to match a carcass to a particular horn discovered on a suspected poacher or trafficker, or to rhinoceros blood on his clothes, knives or axes.
To make that possible, Dr. Cindy Harper, a veterinarian at the University of Pretoria, and her colleagues collected DNA from every rhinoceros they could find — more than 20,000 so far. They have taught park rangers how to retrieve blood, tissue or hair samples from every rhinoceros that is killed, dehorned or moved.
The rangers have learned forensic crime-scene principles and the importance of the so-called chain of custody to ensure that the samples are not corrupted. Dr. Harper’s lab performs the analysis and stores DNA fingerprints.
The scientists’ database, which they call Rhodis, is modeled after Codis, the F.B.I. system used to link the DNA of suspects to evidence at a crime scene.
The approach is promising, said Crawford Allan, senior director of Traffic, which monitors illegal wildlife trade at the World Wildlife Fund.
A poaching scene is a crime scene, he said: “If you want to get through detection and investigation and prosecution, treat it as a crime scene and use forensics.”
Poaching has escalated exponentially in the past decade, he noted. More than 7,000 rhinos have been killed in the past ten years. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 20,00 to 30,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks.
Their tusks and horns are trafficked through experienced criminal networks. “You really need sophisticated tools to help solve these crimes,” Mr. Allan said.
The rhino project provides “a ‘cold hit’ database,” said Stephen J. O’Brien, referring to the identification of a perpetrator by DNA when there are no other apparent clues.
Dr. O’Brien, an expert on DNA fingerprinting and chief scientific officer of the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, is co-author of a new paper, published on Monday in Current Biology, describing the anti-poaching effort.
A similar attempt to use DNA to convict poachers is led by Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. His group’s focus is African elephants.
Over a period of 15 years, he and his colleagues have collected and analyzed DNA from dung to create a map of the ranges of various elephant groups based on their genetic differences. It helps show where ivory seized from poachers originated.
The project has not linked specific carcasses to specific tusks recovered from traffickers. But the analysis has provided valuable clues about the regions in which poachers are operating.
“To our surprise, the ivory was consistently coming from two areas,” Dr. Wasser said. Tusks from savanna elephants were initially coming from southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique, the data showed, but the illegal trade then shifted northward to southern Kenya.
Tusks from forest elephants originated in a small triangular area in northeast Gabon, northwest Republic of the Congo, and southeastern Cameroon.
“Instead of focusing everywhere, if we really want the big criminals we should focus on those two spots,” Dr. Wasser said.
The sale of ivory and rhino horns is hugely lucrative. Rhino horns may bring $60,000 or more per kilogram. A horn generally weighs a few kilograms, but a few have been as heavy as 10 kilograms, or about 22 pounds.
“Pound for pound, a rhino horn is worth more than heroin or gold or platinum,” Mr. Allan said. And prosecutions are so rare that the risks for the traffickers are “very low.”
The poacher sells horns to a trafficker, who disguises them and ships them to destination countries, mainly Vietnam and China. Some horns are carved into jewelry while still in South Africa, which can make it extremely difficult to trace them.
Most horns are ground and used as medicine in Asia, believed to cure cancer, impotence — or, Mr. Allan said, “you name it.” More recently, people in Asia have begun wearing beads or bangles made from rhino horns thought to have curative powers and to be status symbols. Some horns are made into ceremonial cups.
Elephant tusks currently sell for $1,000 a kilogram, Dr. Wasser said. Unlike rhino horns, which are shipped in relatively small volumes, traffickers typically collect and ship at least half a ton of ivory, or 500 kilograms, in a container.
Some seizures have uncovered as much as seven tons of ivory in a single shipment, Dr. Wasser said. Ivory is primarily bought by collectors or as an investment.
Dr. Wasser’s primary target is traffickers, not poachers. Even when poachers are caught and convicted, he said, “there are 10 more waiting in line to replace them.”
But traffickers form the basis of the business that makes poaching profitable. “The analogy is, are you after a serial killer or a one-time murderer?” he asked.
To catch a serial killer, Dr. Wasser added, authorities require “intelligence-based forensics to prevent future crimes.”
Dr. Harper also hopes to disrupt the criminal networks shipping contraband — in this case, rhino horns — to destination countries. So far, the rhino database has been used to convict hunters and traffickers in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Swaziland.
But the group has not disrupted the criminal conglomerates at the top of the chain, she said.
The rhinoceros project began in 2010, when poaching was skyrocketing. Thirteen were poached in South Africa in 2007; more than 1,000 are now killed each year.
In 120 criminal cases completed or still pending, Rhodis has linked DNA on horns, equipment or clothing to particular carcasses, Dr. Harper said. But it can take years for a case to move through the courts and end in a conviction.
The first successful such conviction involved a Vietnamese smuggler who was caught with seven horns at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in 2010. Two were matched to carcasses, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
But the case involving Mr. Mukwena was one of the first to involve a well-known smuggler. He was arrested on Jan. 16, 2012, after a police officer spotted him walking across a field carrying a black bag.
When the officer confronted him, Mr. Mukwena dropped the bag and ran. It contained three rhinoceros horns, two from a cow and one from her calf.
Apprehended, Mr. Mukwena admitted to killing the cow but said an accomplice had killed the calf because it was bothering him.
Correction: January 8, 2018
An earlier version of this article misidentified the organization that hosts Traffic, the group monitoring illegal wildlife trade. It is the World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wildlife Federation.
ELIZABETHTOWN — A Willsboro resident accidentally shot another man while they were hunting illegally, State Police say.
About 5 p.m. Dec. 14, Elizabethtown Community Hospital contacted State Police to report what was said to be an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound sustained by Waite E. Denton, 27, of Willsboro.
The accident happened while he was hunting with Andrew L. Rolston, 33, police said in a news release.
“Denton initially claimed to us that he shot himself” while they were in a wooded area off Crowningshield Lane in the Town of Elizabethtown, State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman said Wednesday.
“A subsequent investigation revealed Denton and Rolston were illegally hunting deer when Rolston accidentally shot Denton with a 20-gauge shotgun,” the release said.
“The slug entered his right bicep and exited through his right tricep before grazing his upper back.”
Rolston drove Denton to Elizabethtown Community Hospital. He was later flown to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington with non-life-threatening injuries.
Fleishman said Rolston was treated there and has been released from the hospital.
State Police charged Rolston with second-degree assault, a felony, and second-degree reckless endangerment, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and making a punishable false written statement, all misdemeanors.
He was arraigned in Westport Town Court, where he was released on his own recognizance.
Rolston is due in Elizabethtown Town Court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, and in Lewis Town Court at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26.
Denton was charged with making a punishable false written statement.
He was released on an appearance ticket, due back in Lewis Town Court at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 26.
HUNTING OFF SEASON
Deer-hunting season in the northern zone of New York state runs from Oct. 21 to Dec. 3, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation website, so Denton and Rolston were allegedly 11 days past season.
Additional New York State Environmental Conservation Law charges are pending.
The investigation was conducted jointly with DEC Environmental Conservation Police.
OAKLAND — Maryland Natural Resources Police recently arrested five Garrett County residents on charges related to a string of illegal hunting incidents that reportedly began in 2016 and continued into this year. NRP officers executed search and seizure warrants at several homes last month following tips from social media and the public.
Tyler Michael DeWitt, 21, Swanton, was charged with hunting during a closed season, possessing of deer in a closed season, hunting deer at night, hunting deer with a spotlight, shooting from a vehicle, hunting without written permission, removing the head or hide of a deer before check-in, failing to report a turkey kill and obstructing or hindering a police investigation. He was cited for 30 violations that could lead to a total maximum fine of $45,500 and revocation of his hunting privileges for up to five years.
Dakota Lee Hinebaugh, 29, Oakland, was cited for 24 violations that could lead to fines totaling $39,500 and revocation of his hunting privileges for up to five years. He is accused of hunting without a license, hunting during a closed season, possessing of deer in a closed season, hunting deer at night, hunting deer with a spotlight, hunting without written permission and removing the head or hide of a deer before check-in.
The investigation revealed that Tyler DeWitt and Dakota Hinebaugh engaged in night hunting on several occasions from roads in southern Garrett County. The following men were reportedly implicated in the activities.
Michael Allen DeWitt, 42, Oakland, was charged with obstructing and hindering a police investigation, as well as littering, after his son Tyler (mentioned above) warned him in April to throw away packages of deer meat and antlers kept at the senior DeWitt’s home. He faces a potential fine of $1,500 and up to 30 days in jail.
Donald Lee Hinebaugh Jr., 41, Oakland, received citations for failing to report two deer kills and aiding and abetting hunting without a license. He faces a potential fine of up to $1,500.
Phillip Lyle DeWitt, 58, Mtn. Lake Park, was cited for failing to report a kill and failing to record the kill on his Big Game Harvest Record. He could be fined a maximum of $3,000.
In connection with the investigation, Maryland State Police charged Lukas Isaac Holler, 18, Oakland, and James Wesley Lewis, 19, Accident, each with possession of a rifle or shotgun after conviction of a disqualifying crime and illegal possession of ammunition. The weapons charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 fine, and the ammunition charge carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine of up to $1,000.
Officers reportedly searched an area near Graham Road and found approximately a dozen deer carcasses dumped over the embankment. Some of the heads of the carcasses had the skull plate/antlers removed while antlered deer with small racks were intact.
Trial dates in Garrett County District Court are pending.
CENTRALIA, Wash. (AP) – Two of the three newest suspects in a massive poaching investigation out of southwest Washington have pleaded not guilty.
The Chronicle reports Aaron Hendricks, his father-in-law David McLeskey of Woodland and Aaron Hanson are facing charges of first-degree animal cruelty, unlawful hunting of black bear, cougar, bobcat or lynx with dogs and second-degree unlawful hunting of animals.
Hendricks and McLeskey have pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
Hanson is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
According to court documents, officials uncovered a network of poachers after investigating William Haynes and Erik Martin who are suspected of engaging in illegal hunting activities.
Law enforcement identified Hanson, Hendricks and McLeskey as suspects and co-conspirators in the illegal activities from cellphone evidence.
A Saskatchewan man has been handed a lifetime hunting ban after pleading guilty to running an illegal outfitting operation.
Ministry of Environment conservation officers started an investigation into Steven Bullock, 36, in March 2016 after becoming aware of a possible illegal outfitting company called In The Stix Bear Camp.
Officers said he had been advertising bear hunts on social media since 2015 and an inactive camp in northern Saskatchewan was being used as a front for the operation.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources became involved in the investigation in the fall of 2016 after an American client was provided outfitting services to hunt black bears along the North Saskatchewan River near Langham and fish at Blackstrap Lake.
Bullock, who is from Langham, was charged with outfitting and advertising without a licence, exceeding fish possession limits, breaching a 10 year firearms prohibition order, possession of a firearm without a possession acquisition licence and falsifying hunting/outfitting licenses.
He pleaded guilty in Saskatoon provincial court to seven charges and was fined $16,080.
Bullock was also handed a lifetime ban from applying or obtaining a big game licence, game bird licence or fur licence.
He is also banned from owning or possessing a firearm or ammunition for three years, must contact a conservation officer prior to accompanying anyone on a hunt and abide by the conditions of his probation and conditional sentence orders.
Environment Ministry officials said anyone charged and convicted of a suspendable wildlife infraction on three separate occasions automatically receives a lifetime hunting suspension.
Bullock pleaded guilty in October 2016 to illegally hunting moose in the Langham area in November 2014.
Along with receiving a fine of $5,600, he was given a four-year hunting suspension.
There is no information available on his third offence.