By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
With the Wyoming Game and Fish Department trying to do more with fewer game wardens, its membership in a nationwide compact to ban poachers from hunting helps, says a conservationist and former warden.
“There are some poachers who don’t have limited monetary resources, so they see the fines as an acceptable cost of doing what they do,” Shawn Blajszczak of Powell, Wyoming region director for the Mule Deer Foundation, told Cowboy State Daily.
He also was a Wyoming game warden from 2006-2017.
A Welcome Enforcement Tool
Blajszczak was glad to hear that the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact was brought to bear against five men convicted in two recent poaching cases. One of those was among the largest in Wyoming’s history.
Wyoming is among 48 states – likely soon to be 49 – in which the compact applies. It allows judges to strip hunters convicted of poaching in any member state of their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges in all member states.
Hawaii and Massachusetts are the only states that don’t belong to the compact, and Massachusetts is in the process of joining.
The compact seems to chill all but the most wealthy potential poachers, Blajszczak said.
“The hard thing is catching the really affluent people poaching,” he said. “All you’re doing is making them go hunt in Canada or Africa for a while.”
Black Market Bear Gall Bladders
Poachers in other parts of the world kill for profit. They can sell animal parts, such as powdered rhinoceros horn, on the black market.
That’s not frequently the case with Wyoming wildlife, Blajszczak said.
“Most of what we have here isn’t really marketable,” he said.
That said, a few years ago there was a surge in demand for black bear gall bladders because their contents were rumored to have medicinal qualities, he said.
That allegedly lead to the poaching of some Wyoming bears, although the market for their gall bladders has since waned, he said.
“Whenever we do get something like that, it’s usually a cultural thing, where the demand is coming from a culture outside of America,” he said.
Over-Zealous Shed Hunting Hurts Wildlife
There also is occasional black-market demand for deer, elk and moose antlers or powder ground from them, Blajszczak said.
That profit motive can push people into going beyond the legal or ethical bounds of shed hunting, he said.
Male elk, deer and moose shed their antlers yearly, usually in the late winter. Shed hunting involves hiking around – sometimes in close proximity to herds – in hopes of finding the shed antlers.
If people take to the field too early, that can stress the animals beyond their limits, Blajszczak said. After surviving for most of the winter, they’ve burnt off most of their fat and energy reserves.
Even an increased heartbeat caused by the stress of people getting too close can exhaust or kill them.
“If you stress them out that time of year, you could also cause doe deer to prematurely abort their fawns, or cow elk and moose to abort their calves,” he said.
‘An Ego Thing’
Despite some opportunities for black market profit, “most poaching in Wyoming is an ego thing,” Blajszczak said.
“The majority of it is a crime of passion, in which people didn’t set out intending to do it,” he said. “There are instances of a guy driving toward his hunt area and spotting a huge animal by the road in another hunt area, and not being able to resist the temptation.”
The best busts are of poachers who “set out to do it, and knew what they were doing,” he added.
That apparently was the case with the latest two big poaching convictions.
All Eyes Needed
Although there’s a stigma against “snitching,” ethical hunters shouldn’t hesitate to call a game warden if they see or hear of something dicey, Blajszczak said.
“When I was a warden, I had to patrol 2,600 square miles. I can only patrol a square mile at a time,” he said. “In most of the cases I closed, it started with a tip from a hunter or other member of the public.
“There can be rewards available for tips that lead to arrests,” he added. “I had people turn down rewards when I was a warden, but for those with monetary needs, the rewards are there.”
Word of those big poaching busts, and the men’s subsequent nearly nation-wide loss of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges, comes at a time when Game and Fish is short of game wardens.
The agency is having trouble finding new recruits.
“We just need people who are dedicated to the resource, and willing to step up and do the job,” Blajszczak said, adding that the daunting nature of the job might be causing some young people to hesitate.
“During hunting season, you work way too many hours, and wardens don’t typically get overtime,” he said. “You have to be self-motivated, because most of the time there isn’t anybody else out there supervising what you’re doing.”
Ironically, while many who might be interested in becoming wardens are themselves avid hunters, the job doesn’t allow much time for hunting, Blajszczak said.
“It’s just a day of hunting here, and a day of hunting there,” he said. “The nice thing is, you do frequently know where your quarry is at in your patrol region. But you’re definitely not going to be planning those two-week-long hunting trips in October if you’re a warden.”