The enforcement of laws pertaining to the harvest of American ginseng, which grows wild in some forests in the region, are one of the many tasks assigned to wildlife officers in Ohio and Michigan. The roots of the ginseng plant are coveted by certain cultures for their medicinal properties and wild roots can fetch as much as $600 per pound.
When the truck pulls out of the driveway each day, the wildlife officer can be certain of one thing — this shift won’t be at all like yesterday, and tomorrow’s will be altogether different as well.
Whether they are starting at 5 a.m. or beginning work as the clock approaches midnight, they are prepared for just about anything because that is what the job usually sends their way.
In Ohio and Michigan, and in many other states and provinces, the role requires versatility and a flexibility few others demand. You might be assisting with the rescue of an injured hawk, mediating a dispute at a campground, apprehending a felon, and handing out a citation for littering along a stream — all on the same day. Wildlife officers, conservation officers, and investigators have to play every position in the lineup.
Ohio wildlife officer Craig Porter, working in Jefferson County, had been working a case involving the illegal harvest of ginseng when he got a tip a vehicle parked in an unusual place might be connected. At the scene, Porter found a suspect from a previous case of illegal ginseng harvest returning to his vehicle after dark with a bag filled with ginseng, which can fetch upwards of $600 per pound.
The investigation showed this suspect had been involved in multiple ginseng violations. Officer Porter seized 60 ginseng roots and tools used in the theft at that point, and three days later busted the same guy at a different site. A search revealed more than 2,500 ginseng roots, 400 ginseng berries, and more digging tools. The thief was convicted of multiple felonies and fined more than $2,000, and the ginseng was returned to the rightful landowners.
Lake Erie Investigator Kevin Good got a call from a citizen about a man bragging he had taken a limit of walleye quickly one morning and how he planned to go back out on the lake to get more. With a license plate number and a vehicle description, Good was able to track down the man and his son as they returned with a second limit of walleye. Both paid more than $500 in fines, court costs, and restitution, and had their fishing licenses suspended for one year.
In Michigan’s Marquette County, conservation officer Brett DeLonge was working the boat access site at a state campground when he was summoned to mediate a heated dispute between campers related to noise violations. A resolution was reached and the rowdy campers opted to leave the campground.
Michigan conservation officer Jennifer Hanson was patrolling the Sylvania Wilderness Area in Gogebic County when she encountered three individuals whose canoe had overturned in high waves. No one was injured and she assisted the subjects in retrieving their canoe.
In northwest Ohio’s Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, wildlife officer Ryan Kennedy encountered a vehicle that matched the description of one thought to be involved in multiple litter incidents. After a traffic stop, the female occupant eventually admitted to littering on numerous occasions. She paid $350 in fines and court costs.
Ohio wildlife officers have been on the hunt for litterers of a similar ilk in Pike, Vinton, and Lawrence counties. During the past two years, they have made more than 40 arrests for dumping violations after finding beverage containers, old computer equipment, furniture, household appliances, tires, and brush cuttings. Individuals who see illegal dumping taking place are urged to call the ODNR Division of Wildlife or the Turn In a Poacher (TIP) hotline to report the violation. When that call comes in, the plan for the day can quickly change.
“Officers often get asked what a typical day is, and the answer is that there is no typical day,” said Jeff Collingwood, Lake Erie law enforcement supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “The average person gets used to operating on a set schedule, but wildlife officers can have several things on their schedule when a phone call comes in on hot poaching tip or to go assist in a search and rescue, and everything changes.”
During the past muzzleloader season, Ohio wildlife officers Matt Leibengood, Reid Van Cleve, and Brian Bury worked a call from the TIP hotline indicating an illegal firearm was being used by an individual hunting in Sandusky County. They followed tracks in the snow at the site to two dead deer that were not properly tagged.
After contacting two nearby hunters, the investigation showed one of them had taken three deer that day, and reported the harvest of the third deer under another person’s name. The officers also found the individual who had killed the deer could not legally possess a firearm. He was arrested and taken to jail. The two men paid a total of $893 in fines, court costs, and restitution.
“That happens, when you might have planned to put in an administrative day and then a higher priority takes its place,” Collingwood said. “Things can change very rapidly, and you have to adjust on the fly. Sometimes you will work until midnight one day, and then start the next morning very early — whatever the situation dictates.”
Ohio wildlife officer Matt Teders recently was patrolling sections of the Scioto River around Columbus popular with anglers who use cast nets to collect bait, such as minnows and forage fish. He encountered multiple violators who were using these nets to take gamefish species, such as bluegills and crappie. The law requires that any gamefish taken with a cast net must be released immediately.
Recently, Michigan conservation officer Andrea Erratt finally closed a case from 2016 that involved a sailor who had abandoned his 32-foot sailboat along the shore of Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had to organize and pay for the removal of the sailboat from the bottom of a steep bluff, so at the hearing the boat owner was ordered to pay fines, restitution and costs of $21,035.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.