Wildlife law enforcement
Evidence seized from poaching cases
This is the second of six articles written by wildlife officer Scott Murdoch that will be distributed throughout the summer. Each will come out roughly a week in advance from when wildlife officers from Park, Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties host Coffee with a Game Warden get-togethers, providing the public with an opportunity to meet their local wildlife officer and ask them questions. Times/locations for the second Coffee with a Game Warden sessions at local establishments on June 19 are listed at the bottom of the article.
CONIFER, Colo. – Welcome back. My name is Scott Murdoch and I am a District Wildlife Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). I work in the Conifer area along U.S. Highway 285 in part of Park and Jefferson counties.
This article is the second of a series of articles that will highlight how wildlife is managed in Colorado. CPW is the state agency responsible for managing the wildlife that calls Colorado their home. Our agency employs aquatic and terrestrial biologists, researchers, property and hatchery technicians, administrators, wildlife officers, investigators, engineers and many others to accomplish the broad mission of conserving and protecting the state’s 960 game and non-game species.
More than 70 percent of CPW’s wildlife programs to conserve and protect those species are paid for by the license fees from hunters and anglers. CPW does not receive general tax dollars to fund its wildlife conservation programs. Wildlife officers and investigators are two of the positions that help manage wildlife through the enforcement of state and federal laws.
Popular television shows like Lone Star Law, North Woods Law, Rugged Justice, Wardens and Alaska State Troopers highlight the public’s fascination with nature and wildlife law. This fascination is also highlighted in book sales like the award-winning series of books by author C.J Box starring fictional Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, and the book titled Wildlife Wars (and many others) by the late local Evergreen legend, game warden, and author, Terry Grosz. These have encouraged many young men and women to pursue a career in wildlife law enforcement. While these shows and books highlight the most exciting aspects of the job as a wildlife officer or ‘game warden’ as you may hear, it isn’t always fast action. Many get into this profession for the desire to protect wildlife and habitats, spend time outdoors and catch the ‘bad guy,’ but one needs to be aware of the ‘other’ highly important, but maybe not as alluring parts of the job as a game warden.
Accurate documentation of investigations and patrols is the most important part of my job as a wildlife officer. They say if it isn’t written or documented it didn’t happen. That is the absolute truth. I write thousands of pages of reports each year and much of it never gets read, but when it does sometimes it is the smallest detail that makes the biggest impact in the successful prosecution of a case. The amount of time that it takes from receiving intelligence and documenting evidence to the final stage of obtaining a conviction through the courts often takes from one to three years, depending on how complex the investigation is. Another six months often go by in the process of obtaining a suspension hearing decision if the violations warrant the suspension of hunting and fishing privileges.
When an officer obtains information about a suspect that may be involved in poaching, the illegal taking of wildlife, that officer will generally look at the situation and identify what information they need to verify the allegation. Sometimes this involves careful observations, looking over evidence left at the scene of a crime, search warrants, court orders, interviews, forensics including DNA and ballistics, and many other creative approaches. It is like a big puzzle, the pieces are all out there waiting to be put together. Sometimes you find nearly all of the pieces and other times you only find a few. The more clear the picture is when you are finished assembling the puzzle, the more likely the case can be presented to the district attorney for the prosecution, and more likely you will bring that suspect to justice.
These larger cases can be so tedious, but tremendously rewarding once all the pieces fall into place. Sometimes it is frustrating when you know the puzzle pieces are out there, but the picture you have created isn’t clear enough for prosecution. Cases like these often become future intelligence, the formation of patterns that officers use to prove illegal poaching activities that occur over many months or even years. The reports that the public provides through anonymous tip lines like Colorado Operation Game Thief are often the biggest and most helpful catalyst in a large poaching case.
You may ask, is there really poaching going on around here? The answer is a firm YES.
It never ceases to amaze me some of the behaviors that go on, mostly unnoticed in and around the semi-rural mountain communities like Conifer, Bailey and Evergreen.
Poaching comes in many forms. It may be taking too many fish from the local lake or stream, falsifying residency on license applications, or the outright take of trophy game without a license. The challenge that wildlife officers have is that most of the time poaching behaviors are very subtle, take place in remote and hard to get to places and occur at odd times in the day. While all of these behaviors occur in any community surrounded by wildlife, wildlife officers around the state are so thankful for the vast majority of the hunters, trappers and anglers that follow all wildlife laws, even when nobody is watching.
So the next time you see wildlife, know that the local wildlife officer is looking after the wildlife that you cherish. If you would like to meet your local officer, please come with questions and share coffee with us at the following dates and times.
Coffee with your local game warden on June 19 at:
Genesee: 9-10 a.m. at Buffalo Moon Coffee Shop Cafe: 25948 Genesee Trail Rd M, Golden
Evergreen: 9-10 a.m. at The Bagelry: 1242 Bergen Pkwy, Ste 3, Evergreen
Conifer: 9-10 a.m. at Dutch Bros Coffee: 10855 U.S. Highway 285, Conifer
Bailey: 9-10 a.m. at Mudslingers: 144 Bulldogger Rd., Bailey
Fairplay: 9-10 a.m. at The Java Moose: 730 Main St., Fairplay
Poaching is a crime against you, your neighbor, and everyone else in the state of Colorado. Call 1-877-COLO-OGT toll-free or Verizon cell phone users can simply dial #OGT to report it. If you’d prefer, you can e-mail us at .
CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 42 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.
Copyright © 2021 Colorado Parks and Wildlife, All rights reserved.
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