Putting an End to Deer Poaching on Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
Thanks to an anonymous tip and solid investigative work, a 17-year serial poacher from Minnesota was sentenced in federal court on May 13, 2014 after pleading guilty to a Lacey Act violation for transporting wildlife that was unlawfully taken in violation of federal law. In October 2013, William Robert Welsh, age 41 of St. Cloud, Minnesota pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
A plea agreement outlines an admission from Welsh that, in October of 2011, Welsh shot and killed a deer in the closed area of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The following day, Welsh sawed off the deer’s antlers and transported them to his residence, leaving the remainder of the carcass in the field. Welsh later transported the antlers and other evidence to another person’s residence and instructed them to hide the items.
As part of the sentence, Judge Franklin L. Noel of the Minnesota District announced that Welsh is barred from hunting “big game” anywhere in the United States for five years, banned from entering Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge for five years and forfeits his seized firearm and hunting equipment, along with trophy deer mounts and antlers from seven illegally taken deer. Judge Noel placed Welsh on two years of probation and 100 hours of community service, additionally banned Welsh from hunting small game during that time.
Part of the illegal poaching by William Robert Welsh of St. Cloud, Minnesota. USFWS photo.
This court case stems from a joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources investigation that documented what may be the most extensive poaching activity in the history of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. Welsh’s illegal deer hunting operation was located north of Zimmerman, Minnesota in an area of the refuge that is closed to all public access.
“This investigation revealed at least a decade of egregious poaching on the refuge and other areas throughout the state,” explained U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Zone Law Enforcement Officer Brent Taylor.
“While the loss to the resource cannot be undone, it is good to know that this poacher will not be able to continue his unethical behavior anywhere in the country,” continued Taylor.
The investigation started when Federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer Scott Pariseau received a call in November 2011 through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Turn-in-Poachers hotline. Based on that information, investigators located Welsh unlawfully hunting in the closed area of the refuge with his young son. Officer Pariseau, along with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and Office of Law Enforcement special agents, identified five permanent tree stands in the closed area of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge that Welsh used for hunting deer.
“We are pleased to see this poacher brought to justice,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resident Agent in Charge Pat Lund, supervisor for Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. “Gluttonous wanton waste like this has no place on refuge lands and has a negative impact on legal, ethical hunting opportunities,” continued Lund.
Prior to this investigation, Welsh had been cited by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 1996 for trespassing and illegally hunting deer in a Minnesota state game refuge, for which Welsh’s hunting privileges were revoked for three years. During an interview in December 2011, Welsh told investigators that, in 1998, while his hunting license was revoked, he hunted using his wife’s deer license and killed a deer and tagged it using his wife’s deer tag. Investigators found and seized this illegally taken deer during the execution of federal and state search warrants at Welsh’s residence in December 2011.
The investigative team discovered that Welsh illegally killed eight white-tailed deer in the closed area of the refuge from 2006 to 2011. Welsh had five of these deer mounted, and simply cut the antlers off the other three. Welsh referred to one of these deer mounts as his “big 8-pointer.” Welsh showed investigators a large tattoo on his back that depicted the skull and antlers of the deer. Welsh also admitted to killing three other deer off the refuge in violation of state law near St. Cloud, Minnesota. A witness told investigators about a fourth deer that Welsh shot at night from a vehicle while using a spotlight.
Investigators re-interviewed Welsh in July 2012, during which time he told investigators he had discarded the five remaining deer that investigators had determined were illegally taken in violation of federal and state laws. In the plea agreement, Welsh agreed to forfeit these five unlawful deer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but failed to make them available to investigators. In all, Welsh forfeited four deer mounts and the antlers from three other illegally taken deer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like to recognize the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and their conservation officers, whose assistance in this investigation was instrumental in the successful outcome of this case.
By Tina Shaw