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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2012

Scofflaws keep wildlife officials busy with zany antics

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

The creativity of some of the lawbreakers in the precinct of the outdoors is both comical and troubling. Their antics have forced wildlife officers to expect to observe the zany, the bizarre, and the outrageous, all in the line of duty.

Several times in recent years, Ohio Division of Wildlife officers have been treated to a performance by a collection of clumsy, angling thespians whose act demonstrates they are not quite ready for center stage at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

These crooks used an elaborate scheme to try to get away with snagging walleyes on the Maumee River during the spawning run, while making it appear that they had released the snagged fish, as the law requires. Working from a boat anchored in the middle of the river, one yahoo would snag a walleye and bring it into the boat, while feigning his dismay over the beautiful fish he would have to throw back.

As he placed the fish in the bottom of the boat, out of the direct vision of anyone on shore, he appeared to remove the hook so the fish could be returned to the water. While this charade went on, his buddy was discreetly pushing a hook attached to a second line into the mouth of the fish.

Scofflaw No. 2 left his fishing rod lying against the side of the boat with the bail open, so the line would feed out freely. As the original actor raised the fish and tossed it back in the water, while again faking his heartbreak over losing a nice walleye, the other guy calmly picks up his rod, pretends to cast, and starts fishing. In a few moments, the potential Tony Award nominees again pretend to be excited over the second fisherman's good fortune as he reels in a nice walleye legally hooked in the mouth.

But it's the same fish that had just been snagged moments earlier by the actor playing the lead role in this theater of the absurd. The only thing that could have made it worse was if it had been a musical.

"We've probably seen that same trick tried at least three times over the past 10 years," said Paul Kurfis, the law enforcement supervisor for the Division of Wildlife's Findlay office. "They play the whole thing out to make it look like they're doing everything legal."

The perpetrators were busted and joined by more than a few others in the recent outdoors hall of shame class.

A Lake County wildlife officer was treated to the outdoors version of the HBO documentary Taxicab Confessions. The officer had been to dinner with friends and took a taxi home. Deer hunting came up in conversation on the drive, and the cabbie bragged about shooting an eight-point buck from the window of his cab using a crossbow, well after midnight. The driver continued, commenting that he hadn't bothered to buy a hunting license or a deer permit for a number of years.

After reviewing the list of the registered taxi drivers in the area, the poaching cabbie was found and hit with four wildlife violations, fined $500 plus court costs, and required to turn over his crossbow and the antlers from the buck.

A Michigan trio from Prescott in Ogemaw County might take the prize for the lengthiest list of alleged offenses.

A joint investigation by wildlife officials in Michigan and Colorado has resulted in the three being charged recently with illegal trapping, importing illegally taken game from another state; illegally taking bobcat, otter, and mink; possessing an illegal silencer; capturing a whitetail deer in the wild and then building and maintaining an illegal deer enclosure without the necessary permit; animal cruelty; importing elk illegally taken in another state, and possession of a pine marten that was illegally taken.

That's the Michigan charges. In Colorado, the trio faces nearly 50 additional charges relating to the illegal killing and possession of trophy-class elk, black bear, and bobcats, the destruction of wildlife, and forgery. Some of the Michigan charges carry a mandatory suspension of hunting privileges with a conviction.

Possessing an illegal silencer and the animal cruelty charges carry stiff fines and the possibility of five years in prison.

Colorado law permits the issuance of larger fines and more jail time in cases that involve trophy-class big game or multiple big game animals being taken illegally. The fines and jail time in Colorado could top $90,000 and a year behind bars, upon conviction. The accused wildlife poachers also face the potential lifetime suspension of their hunting and fishing rights in Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, and 33 other states that are part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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