By Tina Shaw, USFWS
Our law enforcement officers work every day to uphold all sorts of conservation laws, permits and regulations on refuge lands across the Midwest.
Sure, you may know that they use GPS technology, surveillance and other high-tech tools to get the job done, but did you know that they have another highly sophisticated tool?
Yes! National wildlife refuges have been using trained federal wildlife canines for more than 20 years across the country for everything from search and rescue to finding and retrieving hidden game.
Meet 'Nate,' a member of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife law enforcement team. (Photo: Dustin Schelling/USFWS)
Our most recent canine success story comes from the law enforcement team at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois.
Last fall, Federal Wildlife Officer Dustin Schelling of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge noticed evidence of baiting and what looked to be a poaching operation for harvesting whitetail deer in an area of the refuge that is closed to hunting.
Hunting over bait, using screw in steps for a tree stand, and leaving a tree stand in overnight are all violations of federal hunting regulations and Schelling set out to put a stop to this illegal activity on refuge lands.
In addition to the tree stand and equipment found onsite, there was extensive damage done to create these illegal hunting holes, including cutting and removal of vegetation.
While he had a great amount of evidence, Schelling was having difficulty finding one of the poaching locations.
To better build his case and, ultimately bring the poacher to justice, Schelling called upon Federal Wildlife Canine Officer Adam Rawlinson and his canine partner Nate to work the case.
Officer Schelling interviewing hunter after team confirmed poaching activities at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Geoff Donaldson/USFWS)
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Manager Kathleen Burchett was pleased with the strong team effort on this case, saying that “Officer Schelling's patience, tenacity, and effective utilization of all available resources of our exemplary refuge law enforcement team, including Canine Officer Nate, has brought another poacher to justice.”
Federal wildlife canines are trained to use their keen sense of smell for all sorts of wildlife-related needs.
In this case, Nate is trained to track human scent and was able to track the poacher’s path from his vehicle to a baited tree stand nearly a half-mile into the woods.
This was a central element in closing the case. Patience, observation and teamwork made this successful case possible and with the support of Refuge Zone Officer Geoff Donaldson and the Assistant U.S. Attorney George Norwood, the poacher was sentenced to two-years probation to each of the charges, with all terms to run concurrently.
“This is significant in that it sends an important message to those that might consider abusing the privilege of hunting public lands and helps protect legal hunting opportunities for ethical hunters,” noted Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Deputy Manager Kevin Sloan.
A further condition of the sentencing is that during the term of probation, the poacher is losing the privilege of hunting on any public lands and has been fined $1,450 for his illegal activity.
Learn more about how canines are used in conservation work: http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/2775.html
Find out more about the case and sentencing: http://www.justice.gov/usao/ils/News/2013/Apr/04152013_Scherer%20Press%20Release.html
Tina Shaw is a Public Affairs Specialist for External Affairs in the Service's Midwest Region