Friday, October 21, 2011

Trophy elk poached

State also investigating Custer County poaching ring


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A trophy bull elk was shot illegally on private property southwest of Bellevue last weekend and left by the hunter to die of its wound, state officials said Thursday.

Kelton Hatch, spokesman for the Magic Valley Region of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the seven-by-seven adult bull elk was "a known animal," and was known to hang around the region of Broadford Road.

"It would be considered a trophy bull," Hatch said. "It's like an elk you would see in a picture."

The elk was killed near Townsend Gulch on Saturday or Sunday, but Hatch said the department has not found the culprit. Hatch said it's possible that the hunter had a tag, but when the first shot scared the bull, the hunter did not pursue it.

The elk was still alive when conservation officers arrived on scene. Hatch said officers killed the elk and recovered all of the meat, which will be given to a needy family in the area.

Killing an elk on private property carries a penalty of loss of hunting license for one year. Hunting without a tag carries a fine of at least $600 plus court costs, Hatch said.

"We have no developed suspects, but we're collecting leads," Hatch said Thursday.

He reported that the department does have the rack, however.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Citizens Against Poaching hotline at (800) 632-5999. Hatch said that while the department receives anonymous reports from the hotline, callers are still eligible for cash rewards if information leads to the poacher's arrest.

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The department is also assisting with another poaching case, this one a larger investigation into a poaching ring out of Custer County.

"It's an active investigation," Hatch said.

According to Conservation Officer Gary Hompland, department employees stopped a group of vehicles at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on Main Street in Ketchum, searching elk racks and coolers in the back of one pickup truck. Hompland said department agents searched the vehicle for animal parts on a search warrant from Custer County, which was issued for several suspected violations.

Calls to the Salmon Regional Office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Custer County Prosecuting Attorney to obtain more details on this case were not returned as of press time Thursday.

Hatch said he could not comment on the case, as it was being investigated by another office. However, anyone with information should call the Citizens Against Poaching Hotline, he said.

He said poaching as a whole is driven by market forces. A resident deer tag in one game unit costs $19.75 for an adult, but Hatch said a Governor's Tag, which allows a hunter to stalk deer in any unit in the state, can be sold for upwards of $20,000 at auction.

"There is a market-driven reason for poaching," he said. "Things have changed since the old days, when you had more poaching for sustenance."

Poachers can sell hides, antlers and horns for pure profit if they aren't caught, he said.

However, this year hasn't been any busier than usual regarding poaching incidents.

"Harvest has been very good this year, hunter success has been good," Hatch said. "We're not any busier than we are any other year."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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