Game Warden Chronicles: Turtle Smuggler Nabbed; 153-Inch Buck Poached

In the latest Game Warden Chronicles, a Chinese national was arrested for smuggling turtles out of the United States after a multi-year investigation by federal authorities.

Game Warden Chronicles: Turtle Smuggler Nabbed; 153-Inch Buck Poached

New York DEC Conservation Officer Mike Arp with a 153-inch whitetail buck seized from a poacher who shot it with a crossbow in November 2019. The poacher was successfully prosecuted. (Photo: NYDEC/Mike Arp)

Ever hear about a crazy arrest by game wardens and wonder why someone did what they did?

Game warden reports from state conservation departments always are a source for a few laughs and head-scratching moments. Take a look at some of these selections from around the country.

Whitetail Poacher Prosecuted for 153-inch Buck

 A Environmental Conservation Officer with the New York Department of Environmental Commission successfully investigated a case involving an illegally poached whitetail buck in November 2019.

The unidentified hunter paid $750 in fines after pleading guilty in December to illegally killing a 4 1/2-year-old whitetail buck. The man already had killed a buck and did not have a whitetail tag for a second one. He reportedly used his uncle's tag on the poached buck.

Also from New York DEC:

On Dec. 17 in Niagara County, ECO George Scheer received a call from Lt. Nathan VerHague reporting that a deer had been shot after sunset in the town of Hartland. ECO Scheer was nearby and arrived at the scene to find a hunter attempting to drive away. ECO Scheer stopped the hunter, who admitted to shooting a deer but argued it wasn't too dark to shoot.

When asked why the deer was left behind in the field, the individual stated that he was going to come back for it later. The individual showed VerHague and Scheer where he shot from, which was confirmed by the complainant. The deer was seized and donated, and the hunter was issued tickets for taking big game after sunset, illegal taking of protected wildlife, and failure to immediately tag deer as required.

Vermont Man Pleads Not Guilty

On December 14, Vermont State Game Wardens in Cavendish attempted to stop a driver who fired from the cab of his truck at a deer decoy after legal shooting hours.

The operator, later identified as Robert L. Hagar, 48, of Windsor, then led wardens on a pursuit into Weathersfield. Hagar caused at least one vehicle to go off the road while attempting to elude wardens.  Wardens were able to track Hagar approximately three miles on dirt roads to a residence in Weathersfield. They executed a search warrant on the home and seized the truck operated by Hagar at the time of the violation.

Hagar was charged with felony attempting to elude a law enforcement officer, being a felon in possession of a firearm, taking big game in closed season and shooting from a public highway. He was processed and subsequently lodged at Southern State Correctional Facility. Bail was posted at $15,000. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on Dec. 16 in Windsor Superior Court.

If convicted, Hagar could face 60 days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for each Fish and Wildlife violation. For the felon in possession of a firearm charge, he could face up to two years in prison and $1,000 fine, and for the felony charge of grossly attempting to elude a law enforcement officer he could face five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Michigan DNR Seeking Info on Poached Elk

Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers in Gaylord still are seeking tips from the public regarding three adult cow elk poached in Otsego County last December.

Area residents found the three elk about 50 yards north of Hardwood Lake Road near Bobcat Trail, in the Pigeon River State Forest, east of Vanderbilt. Officers believe that the three elk were shot while they were bedded down near each other.

"This is a loss for everyone who appreciates our state’s natural resources. It’s a true shame,” said Lt. Jim Gorno, who said 2019 was "the worst year we've had as far as elk poaching." At least five elk were reported killed in the area last autumn

Gorno said that the public tips received regarding a bull elk poached in November helped identify a suspect in that case.

Turtle Smuggler Flipped

A Chinese national pleaded guilty in November 2019 for directing a scheme whereby hundreds of endangered and vulnerable turtles were purchased in the U.S. and smuggled via U.S. mail and commercial airline flights to China.

Xiao Dong Qin, 34, a resident of Shanghai, China, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to smuggle goods from the U.S.

According to court documents, beginning in at least May 2017 and continuing until June 2018, Qin directed an unindicted co-conspirator in Eugene to purchase more than 300 live turtles from reptile dealers in Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina. All of the turtles purchased and smuggled by Qin are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

A two-year investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) revealed that in a 13-month period, Qin facilitated the purchase and transportation of approximately 136 Florida box turtles, 76 eastern box turtles, 57 North American wood turtles, 20 spotted turtles, 18 diamondback terrapins, seven yellow-blotched map turtles, and one Blanding’s turtle. USFWS investigators determined the market value of the turtles involved in this investigation exceeded $250,000 in the Chinese pet trade.

In February 2019, Qin was arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport by USFWS agents when he arrived from Shanghai.

Qin faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. He will be sentenced on Feb. 27, 2020, before U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane.

As part of the plea agreement, Qin has agreed to pay nearly $8,000 in restitution to rehabilitation facilities near Chicago and San Antonio; and The Turtle Conservancy near Los Angeles for costs associated with the care of turtles intercepted by law enforcement.

This case was investigated by USFWS with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Charges Filed for Illegal Killing of Elk

A Tennessee man has been charged with violations related to the illegally killing of an elk on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Campbell County.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife officer Brenden Marlow charged Sean Doney, 33, of Caryville, with five violations after he admitted to illegally killing an elk cow on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. Charges include Hunting Big Game in Closed Season, Hunting Without a License, Hunting without Hunter Education, Illegal Take of Big Game, and Failure to Retrieve Game on a WMA. Wildlife officers also seized a high-powered rifle from Doney. He is scheduled to appear in Campbell County General Sessions Court on Feb. 20.  

The elk was found lying dead in a food plot in the Red Ash area of NCWMA on Dec. 23.  The cow elk was wearing a GPS collar as part of a 3-year elk research study with the UT Dept. of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries.  A necropsy by the UT College of Veterinary Medicine concluded the animal had been shot and a bullet was recovered from the carcass.

Doney admitted killing the elk but told WATE.com that it was an accident. He said he was helping his brother remove a hunting blind from the WMA and holding his brother's rifle when he got scared.

“It was pitch black outside, and we were going up and kept hearing all this rustling and rustling and rustling. I’ve never been hunting a day in my life, ever," he said. "And I was scared, I hate to say it I was scared, and it kept getting closer and closer and closer, and I fired a shot. I admitted to it. Yes ma’am, I did kill that elk. But it was a complete accident."

Doney said he saw the elk the next morning, he turned himself in. Now, he says he's remorseful.

“I would like to apologize to everyone beacuse this was not intentional, it was a complete accident, I’m from the bottom of my heart, and I will do anything I can to help try to fix the situation,” he told WATE.

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