Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Enforcement Division, working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, recently shut down two of the biggest poaching operations in the division's history. Nicknamed "Operation Palmetto-Peach" and "Operation Rosebud" the two investigations netted 90 forfeited trophies and 53 defendants, $179,000 in fines and restitution and 76 years of revoked hunting privileges.
"This is a major win for the people of Montana to see these two widespread investigations brought to a successful conclusion," said FWP Enforcement Division chief Beate Galda. "Defendants in 10 states, some a far away as New York and New Jersey, were involved and it required five years of dedicated work to get the job done."
Both investigations involved breaking the law on licenses and limits for big game hunting and transporting illegally killed animals across state lines. Operation Palmetto-Peach involved an outfitter located in Marietta, Ga. with ranch land near Broadus. The investigation, beginning in 1997, eventually involved 21 defendants who paid $14,000 in fines and $16,000 in restitution to the State of Montana. The defendants lost a total of 12 years in hunting privileges in Montana and 12 other states and handed over trophy mounts from 36 animals. The case included the states of Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Operation Rosebud involved two Forsyth area outfitters and generated $149,000 in federal and state fines and restitution. The investigation eventually resulted in 40 years of revoked hunting privileges in Montana and 12 other states for 21 state and seven federal defendants, worldwide hunting privileges revoked for a total of seven years and trophies from 54 animals were seized. Charges included killing big game animals without a license, tagging animals with licenses issued to others, killing over the limits and federal Lacey Act violations for transporting illegally killed animals across state lines.
"These two cases illustrate how a few people can do an obscene amount of damage to the resource in a relatively short time," said Warden Sgt. Mike Moore of Miles City, who worked on both cases. "Our wildlife is a very valuable resource coveted by people who will go to extremes, including breaking state and federal laws. This kind of complex, time consuming investigation is the only way to learn the extent of the damage going on around us and to put a stop to it."
State and federal law enforcement is strengthened by an agreement among 13 Western states, known as the Wildlife Violator Compact, that a loss of hunting privileges in one state will extend to all the others in the agreement.
Moore said over 50 FWP Wardens and other state and federal game authorities across the U.S. worked as a team to collect the evidence and complete the investigations required to bring these two cases to a close. Another important partner in solving wildlife crimes is the public. In 2000, the TIP-MONT hotline logged over 1,000 calls, the most calls in the 16-year history of the hotline. The toll free number, 1-800-847-6668, is open 24 hours a day and callers can remain anonymous, do not have to testify in court and may receive a reward for a tip that helps to protect Montana's fish, wildlife and parks resources.
Moore said the forfeited trophy mounts will be made available to local and state government entities, to be displayed with tags noting their illegal origin and the loss of resources to legal hunters. A "Wall of Shame" in the conference room at the Miles City FWP Region 7 office also attests to the waste of public resources involved in these two cases.
"We aren't naive, we know these are only two instances out of who knows how many other cases," Moore said. "But, when we do get a lead we follow it. Putting a stop to even one poaching ring of this size is a major accomplishment for the resource and the people of Montana."