Arizona’s Operation Game Thief program issued 76 citations for wildlife violations in 2017

PHOENIX — “Poachers are criminals.” If you talk to any of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s wildlife managers, you’re likely to hear that phrase repeated as they go about their work as part biologist, part law enforcement officer. As part of their duties, the department’s 97 wildlife managers work to investigate potential poaching cases to ensure that the state’s most precious natural resource — its wildlife — is effectively managed so that future generations can enjoy the more than 800 species found in Arizona.

At the heart of the effort to eliminate and investigate poaching is the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Operation Game Thief program, a silent witness initiative that encourages the public to report information or suspicious activity. Last year, more than 1,000 calls came into the Operation Game Thief hotline (1-800-352-0700) as well as 75 submissions via the online form. Those reports contributed to 76 citations being issued statewide for wildlife issues including the illegal take of big game, fishing violations and the unlawful killing of raptors.

“Poachers are thieves. They do not represent the hunting community, and the majority of the reports come from hunters and anglers who are out in the field and witness suspicious activity,” said Scott Fischer, program manager for Operation Game Thief. “The hunting community does a great job of policing itself. If you see something, say something. Together we can make a difference for Arizona’s wildlife.”

2017’s top five reported violations were:

  1. 356 for the illegal take of big game (resulting in 55 of the 76 citations)
  2. 63 for fishing violations
  3. 59 for feeding wildlife
  4. 52 for the illegal take of raptors
  5. 52 for possession of restricted live wildlife

Individuals who make a report to Operation Game Thief will remain confidential and can report anonymously if needed. The program pays rewards for information that leads to an arrest.

In 2017, wildlife violators were assessed $74,500 in civil fines, and that money goes directly into the department’s Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, which pays for the rewards as well as promotion of Operation Game Thief. In addition, 51 individuals had their hunting and/or fishing license revoked by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission as part of their penalty, one of which was a lifetime revocation. The department receives no general fund money from the state of Arizona.

It’s also important to note that mistakes and accidents happen, and the department will work with hunters and anglers who immediately self-report their actions to the Operation Game Thief hotline.

“Mistakes happen in any endeavor, and the amazing thing about hunters is they frequently report themselves,” Fischer said. “Hunters respect wildlife and because of that respect they’re willing to risk penalties in order to ensure meat from the wildlife they take is not wasted.”

Meat from seized wildlife is inspected by department wildlife managers and typically donated to charities for human consumption.

Arizona’s Operation Game Thief program began in 1979, making it the second oldest initiative of its type in the U.S. The hotline (1-800-352-0700) was implemented at the time and takes reports of wildlife violations 24×7. Wildlife is the property of the state, meaning that every Arizonan has a vested interest in protecting it. Anyone who witnesses a violation — whether it’s related to hunting, fishing, feeding wildlife or illegally possessing wildlife — is encouraged to report that information to Operation Game Thief and act on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, the wildlife.

Two mule deer does poached near Nelson Reservoir

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department is investigating the poaching of two mule deer does.

On Saturday morning, December 23, 2017, the does were illegally killed on Forest Road 8058, west of Highway 191 and south of Nelson Reservoir. One doe was taken from the field and the other was mostly left to waste.

Investigators are seeking information about a maroon or red truck with a silver or gray stripe along the lower frame of the truck, which is believed to be associated with this crime.

“We need assistance from the public to find the individuals responsible,” said AZGFD law specialist Nancy Huser. “This is the action of a criminal, who stole wildlife assets and resources from the people of Arizona and must be brought to justice.”

There was a lawful, open cow elk hunt going on at the time of the poaching. Investigators hope hunters and recreationists who were in the area may have valuable information about the crime.

Anyone with information about this case can call the department’s Operation Game Thief hotline at (800) 352-0700 or visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt and refer to case #17-004986.

Callers may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000 in this case. An additional $500 reward is being offered by the Mule Deer Foundation upon arrest and conviction of the poachers. All caller identities will remain confidential upon request.

Information needed for deer poaching near Kingman

KINGMAN – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is seeking information about the recent illegal killing of a fawn mule deer doe near Kingman.

The fawn was found near Twin Hills Road in the Blake Ranch area of the Peacock Mountains located in Game Management Unit 15B. Only the head of the fawn was found at the scene with evidence that it had been removed by someone. The crime is believed to have been committed the night of December 30 or early morning of December 31, 2017.

Evidence was collected at the scene, but help from the public will play a critical role in finding those responsible, said Wildlife Manager Cody Johnston.

“This is not the act of a hunter, it’s the act of a poacher,” said Johnston. “The vast majority of hunters practice outdoor ethics, have a respect for our wildlife resources, and comply with wildlife laws. Poachers are simply individuals who steal a valuable and limited resource from the people of Arizona. It is important for anyone with information to come forward and help Game and Fish bring those responsible to justice.”

Johnston noted that the hunter community does a good job of policing itself, and most reports of wildlife law violations received through the Operation Game Thief (OGT) hotline are reported by hunters.

OGT rewards are paid from the Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, which is funded largely by criminal fines and civil restitutions from wildlife violators. No reward money comes from the sale of hunting/fishing licenses.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the department’s OGT hotline at (800) 352-0700, or visit https://www.azgfd.com/ogt/, and refer to case #17-005055. Callers may be eligible for a reward up to $500 in this case. Callers identities’ are confidential and can remain anonymous upon request.

Elk poaching investigated northwest of Williams

WILLIAMS – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is investigating the poaching of a bull elk, which occurred on Sunday morning, December 17.

The elk was shot and left to waste in Game Management Unit 10 along U.S. Forest Service road 6, south of Martin Draw northwest of Williams. There was not a lawful bull elk season going on at the time and the elk was shot with a large caliber rifle behind the shoulder.

Investigating officers are seeking information to locate two individuals last seen wearing orange hats that may have left the scene in a low-profile Nissan Titan pickup truck accented with chrome.

“This crime isn’t the act of an ethical, responsible hunter. It is the action of a criminal,” said Game and Fish Wildlife Officer Noah Silva. “Poaching is a crime. These people are stealing wildlife from the citizens of Arizona and we need those who have information to come forward to help bring these criminals to justice.”

Anyone with information about the case can call the Department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline toll-free at (800) 352-0700 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers should provide case number 17-004934 and may remain anonymous upon request, and all identities will be kept confidential.

A reward of up to $1,500 is being offered in this case for information leading to the arrest of the violator(s).

Elk poaching near Flagstaff investigated

FLAGSTAFF – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is investigating the poaching of a bull elk, which occurred the evening of December 3. The bull was found north of Route 66 off Rain Valley Road on the east side of Flagstaff near Picture Canyon.

The elk was shot and left to waste in Game Management Unit 11M, where no elk season was going on at the time. Investigating officers believe the elk was shot from a vehicle on Rain Valley Road.

“We are hoping residents in the area remember seeing a vehicle or hearing a gunshot near sundown on December 3 and can provide vehicle or suspect descriptions,” said Game and Fish Wildlife Officer Colby Walton. “We believe someone knows about this poaching and we would like them to come forward with information.”

Anyone with information about the case can call the Department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline toll-free at (800) 352-0700 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers should provide case number 17-004775 and may remain anonymous upon request, and all identities will be kept confidential.

A reward of up to $1,500 is being offered in this case for information leading to the arrest of the violator(s).

Information sought in deer poaching case near Bagdad

KINGMAN – The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is seeking information about a recent poaching of a deer near Bagdad, Arizona.

The doe was shot in the neck on or about October 28 and left to waste near Hardy Schell, a stock tank northwest of Windy Ridge in Game Management Unit 18B. AZGFD is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest in this case.

“Evidence was collected at the scene, but help from the public will play a critical role in finding those responsible,” AZGFD Wildlife Manager AJ Lander said. “This is not the act of a hunter. Poaching is a crime. It is stealing wildlife from the citizens of Arizona. It is important for anyone with information to come forward and help Game and Fish bring those responsible to justice.”

An investigation is ongoing, and wildlife officers are seeking information about a 1980’s model two-tone blue and grey Ford Bronco. Two male individuals are believed to be involved.

One man was described as being in his 60s, with black curly hair and an overweight build. This individual was seen wearing black coveralls, similar to what a mechanic would wear, and is believed to be the driver of the Bronco. The other subject was also described as being in his 60s, with a slimmer build and was seen wearing blue jeans and an orange hunter hat.

Officers are asking anyone with information about the person or persons responsible for this crime to come forward.

Anyone with information about the case can call the department’s Operation Game Thief hotline toll-free at (800) 352-0700 and provide case number 17-004326 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers’ identities will be kept confidential, and people can report anonymously if needed.

To learn more about Operation Game Thief, visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt.

Reward offered in North Rim deer poaching

FLAGSTAFF – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is offering up to $8,000 reward for information leading to an arrest of yet another suspected poacher.

The latest case involves a mule deer buck that was found dead near Mount Logan on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The deer was recovered in game management unit 13A off County Road 5 and is suspected to have been killed sometime between November 17 and 19.

A lawful deer hunt started November 17 in unit 13A, but evidence at the scene suggests that the mule deer buck was possibly poached and edible portions of the animal were left to waste.

“This crime was obviously not the behavior of ethical, responsible hunters,” said AZGFD Wildlife Officer Luke Thompson. “We’re asking anyone who may have been in the area or has knowledge of the crime to come forward with information on this case. Poaching is a crime against all Arizonans and will not be tolerated. One tip could be all that’s needed to bring a poacher to justice.”

Anyone with information about the case can call the Department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline toll-free at (800) 352-0700 and provide case number 17-004571 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers identities will be kept confidential and people can report anonymously if needed.

Cow elk poaching case being investigated near Strawberry

FLAGSTAFF – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is investigating the poaching of a cow elk, which occurred on November 10 or 11 in southern Game Management Unit 5A about 10 miles north of Strawberry.

The elk was found near U.S. Forest Service Road 308H, which is a closed road near USFS Road 308. Evidence found at the scene indicates the poachers were likely camped off the closed road and they also illegally killed an unidentified non-game bird in the same location. There was no elk season going on at the time the poaching occurred.

Investigating officers also discovered bloody fingerprints on litter found at the scene and possible DNA evidence was recovered as well.

“We are hoping the public may remember seeing a camp on the closed road during this particular weekend and can provide some vehicle or suspect descriptions,” Game and Fish Wildlife Officer Garrett Fabian said. “Getting some information now means we won’t have to wait a long time for lab results to come back to identify the suspects.”

Anyone with information about the case can call the Department’s Operation Game Thief Hotline toll-free at (800) 352-0700 or use the online form at www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers should provide case number 17-004469, information obtained will remain confidential and callers may remain anonymous upon request.

A reward of up to $2,500 is being offered in this case for information leading to the arrest of the violator(s).

To learn more about Operation Game Thief, visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt.

Information sought about cow elk poached in Alpine Valley closure area

PINETOP, Arizona — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is seeking information about a cow elk poached near Alpine in the early morning on Thursday, October 26. The elk was shot in the Alpine Valley closure, south of Luna Lake. There was a legal hunt for cow elk open during this time.

AZGFD officers believe that other hunters in the area may have seen the violation occur.

“Anyone who saw or heard anything that might be related to this unlawful act should call in,” said Officer Aaron Hartzell, an AZGFD field supervisor. “This isn’t the action of a sportsman; it’s a criminal act of stealing wildlife resources from the people of Arizona.”

The department’s Operation Game Thief program encourages anyone with information about such cases or the illegal take of wildlife in Arizona to call its 24/7 hotline at (800) 352-0700 or visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt.

Anyone reporting information about this case can remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $500. Reward funding comes from donations, court fines and civil restitution by violators who commit wildlife crimes.

Anyone with information about the elk poaching should refer to case #17-4152.

AZGFD offers reward for information about two cases of mule deer poached near Prescott

PRESCOTT – — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is seeking information about two poaching cases that both involve mule deer bucks near Prescott.

In the first instance, a 3×4 mule deer buck was found at a cattle water tank off Old Black Canyon Highway near the Stoneridge Community in Prescott Valley.

The second case involves a small buck that was wrapped in a trash bag and found alongside Iron King Road in Dewey.

AZGFD officials say both animals were killed the week of Oct. 16. The department offers cash rewards for information that leads to an arrest, and up to $1,000 may be awarded for each of these poaching cases.

“We want to know if anyone in the area saw or heard anything that may be related to the poaching of either of these bucks,” said Dennis Fogle, an AZGFD wildlife manager. “Poachers are not hunters — they steal one of Arizona’s most precious natural resources.”

The department’s Operation Game Thief program encourages anyone with information about these cases or the illegal take of wildlife in Arizona to call its 24/7 hotline at (800) 352-0700 or visit www.azgfd.gov/ogt. Callers can remain anonymous upon request. Money for rewards comes from donations, court fines and civil restitution by violators who commit wildlife crimes.

Anyone with information about the poaching of either of these animals should refer to case #17-4100 for the mule deer that was shot in the neck and case #17-004107 for the small buck found in the trash bag.