by Sue Webber
ECM Sun Newspapers
While international attention has been focused on Bloomington dentist Walter Palmer’s shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, local officials at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Enforcement are at work regularly to enforce hunting laws in the state.
The Division of Enforcement is responsible for natural resources and recreational law enforcement. It provides regulatory, educational and informational services to hunters, anglers and motorized recreational users.
Headquartered in St. Paul, the enforcement division has 18 districts throughout the state, staffed by a total of 155 field officers who conduct investigations on people found to be poaching, hunting without licenses, using illegal bait, and a variety of other offenses.
Many of the violations the enforcement division finds come through fieldwork in the officers’ respective districts, according to DNR Capt. Alex Gutierrez.
Some of the information about violators comes from the public, through calls to the TIP (Turn in Poachers) line. In 2014, the TIP line received 1,127 calls; 1,080 of them were referred to DNR officers, and 236 arrests were made. Forty-seven rewards were given, totaling $5,275.
“TIP works on somebody seeing, hearing or knowing something,” Gutierrez said. “It has to be a violation for us to be able to take action.”
In 2014, 77 of the 236 people were arrested for deer violations; fishing violations accounted for another 81 arrests; and waterfowl violations for 45 arrests. Six arrests resulted from violations involving trapping or taking fur-bearing animals.
Most violators receive a citation and pay a fine averaging $135, according to Gutierrez.
“We don’t make a physical arrest unless alcohol or motor vehicle violations are in play,” he said.
Most of the reports the DNR receives on any hunting violations are petty misdemeanors or misdemeanors, but a few are gross misdemeanor charges, Gutierrez said. Gross misdemeanor charges are filed with the county attorney in the area where the violation occurred.
Some of the hunters who are found in violation are new to hunting, Gutierrez said.
“The laws get complicated,” he said. “But the majority know the laws and do the correct thing.”
The laws are contained in a voluminous “Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook” that can be found online.
For example, it is legal to bait and hunt bear in Minnesota, though there are some quota-zones, Gutierrez said. In 2014, Minnesota’s bear hunting season began Sept. 1 and continued through Oct. 12. Baiting could begin Aug. 15. A lottery was conducted for bear licenses to be issued within permitted areas.
Regulations for bear hunters include: no more than three bait stations at one time per hunter; a limit of one bear per hunter statewide; white bears and bear cubs cannot be taken; and a tooth must be submitted for all bears harvested.
“Violators could be in the wrong zone, hunting without a license, hunting at night, or found to have taken a bear cub,” Gutierrez said.
According to Gutierrez, the DNR does not poll hunters or keep any documentation on whether bear are hunted for food or as a trophy.
“Once the hunter has it and registers it, we’re done with it,” he said.
Governor’s poaching reform proposal
A poaching reform proposal that would have enacted stiffer criminal penalties and longer license revocations for anyone who unlawfully takes and possesses significant numbers of wild animals was recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton during the 2015 legislative session.
The governor’s proposal would have established a new felony-level penalty for poaching, and revoke game and fish licenses and privileges for a period of up to 10 years.
Current law only includes up to a gross misdemeanor penalty for poaching and license revocations of up to only five years.
Under the governor’s proposal, the felony penalty for poaching would apply to individuals who unlawfully take animals above a restitution value of $2,000.
Criminal poaching cases in Minnesota
Several instances of criminal poaching in Minnesota during the last year include these cases taken from DNR news releases:
•Two rare Bull Elk were illegally shot and killed by poachers near Grygla in an area that holds Minnesota’s smallest elk herd of 18 animals. The area has been closed to hunting since 2012.
•In May, a 28-year-old Blue Earth man who is a licensed bear guide in Tofte and well-known to the DNR as a chronic poacher with previous violations faced nearly $4,000 in fines and restitution after pleading guilty in Cook and Faribault county district courts following an investigation by the DNR.
•A 25-year-old Crystal man and two men from McGregor pleaded guilty to various gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor hunting charges involving several deer taken illegally during the 2013 deer season. The men face fines and restitution totaling more than $10,000.
•An Illinois angler faced nearly $2,200 in fines and restitution, plus the loss of his boat and equipment, following a five-year DNR investigation.
•On Oct. 21, 2014, conservation officers searched a home in Dawson and seized 37 guns and 28 sets of deer antlers, which included 11 shoulder mounts, most of which were trophy-class animals, according to the DNR.
Also seized were four sets of elk antlers and a set of mule deer antlers.
•In July 2014, a Baudette man faced heavy fines, jail time and revocation of his hunting privileges following a DNR investigation of illegal bear and deer activities. He received 90 days in jail, 30 days electronic home monitoring, and 120 hours of community service. His hunting privileges have been revoked for three years.
About TIP program
Minnesota’s Turn In Poachers (TIP) program was formed in 1981 by concerned citizens who wanted to stop the illegal harvest of game and fish in Minnesota.
Although the program initially was formed to curb the illegal harvest of game and fish in the state, calls today also include wetlands, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile violations.
People reporting violations are asked to obtain as much information from observation as possible, and to report all violations as soon as possible.
The information and the reporting party can be kept confidential.
If an arrest is initiated, the person reporting the violation may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. The reward amount is determined by an impartial panel.
The private, nonprofit organization provides all reward monies for the program through volunteer donations. It is not funded by the state.
TIP operates a 24-hour, toll-free hotline (800-652-9093) that Minnesotans can call to lodge complaints against suspected poachers. Cellphone users can also dial #TIP to file a complaint.