Public helps FWP nab bighorn sheep poachers
MISSOULA, Mont. - Tips from the public helped state wildlife officials solve the poaching of three bighorn sheep in the Bonner area, as well as other wildlife violations.
The case began last spring when Matt Stonesifer, a game warden for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, found a bighorn ram that had been killed and left to rot.
"We didn't have much to go on," Stonesifer said. "Basically we had a dead sheep with an arrow sticking in it. That was pretty much it."
A newspaper article resulted in an anonymous tip that led to poaching-related charges against seven area residents.
"Poaching a single bighorn sheep is something of a fairly momentous occasion in our office," Stonesifer said. "They are an animal that is highly valued by the public and sportsmen. To have three killed in one year is something that doesn't happen very often. ...it was just shocking."
The first call to 1-800-TIP-MONT hot line provided Stonesifer with two names.
"People in the Bonner and West Riverside area had been talking about it," he said.
Colby Jones, 21, of West Riverside and a 15-year-old juvenile apparently were together when a ram was killed near Marshall Canyon, FWP was told.
The boy, who fired the arrow, was convicted of hunting a bighorn sheep without a license. He was fined $735 and lost his hunting and fishing privileges for 2 1/2 years.
As part of the investigation, Stonesifer discovered that Jones had killed two deer during the previous hunting season and tagged them with licenses issued to his girlfriend and his father. Jones had lost his hunting privileges after being cited in 2005 for unlawful possession of big game.
Jones was convicted of unlawful possession and illegally transferring licenses. He was fined $1,340, lost his hunting privileges for five years and was ordered to complete five days of work release.
His girlfriend, Staci Skaw, and father, William Jones, were cited for transferring their licenses.
That investigation led to charges being filed against Ryan T. Allen, 20, of West Riverside in the death of a second ram in late 2006.
Allen and a second juvenile shot the bighorn with arrows just above the town and also left the animal behind. Allen had lost his hunting privileges in 2005 after illegally killing seven deer as part of the same case that had cost Jones his privileges.
This time, Allen was sentenced to five days in jail, fined $1,275 and had his hunting privileges suspended for another five years.
The 17-year-old juvenile with Allen was fined $735 for hunting bighorn sheep without a license and had his privileges suspended for two years. Wardens also discovered a spoiled deer carcass hanging at the youth's home, leading to a $535 fine for wasting game.
That investigation led to evidence that a third bighorn sheep had been killed illegally.
Trevor Bowman, 18, of Bonner shot a bighorn ewe just above the Bonner mill on the last day of the general big-game season last fall, FWP said. He skinned it, removed its head, butchered it and ate it after putting a deer tag on it, Stonesifer said.
Bowman was fined $535 and lost his hunting privileges for two years.
The person who provided the tip asked to remain anonymous. The tipster received a $500 reward from FWP and another $500 from the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.
Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com
A service of the Associated Press(AP)
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