March 01, 2014

After several years of not hiring Conservation Officers (COs) and losing officers from retirement, the Law Enforcement Division (LED) of the DNR has announced that they started a recruit school for 31 Conservation Officer Recruits. It has been seven years since the last LED recruit school. LED is one of only a few law enforcement agencies in Michigan certified to run its own police academy.

This academy will contain 22 weeks of intense training at the Michigan State Police Training facility in Dimondale. The majority of instructors will be Conservation Officers. This training will cover basic law enforcement and the recruits that make it through will become certified police officers. They will then attend another intense 18 weeks of training with Conservation Officers in the field, (on the job training) then another four weeks of specialized training learning to operate boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, and other specialized equipment. This is one of the longest periods of law enforcement training in the country.

Currently there are 172 COs in the state, of those, 122 are field officers and another 50 of those are supervisors, detectives or specialists. The highest number of conservation officers reached approximately 280 in the 1990s. There are some COs covering two or three counties currently. To give you an idea on how low the number of officers there are; in the 1980s while I was assigned to Wayne and Monroe Counties there were eight of us assigned to both counties along with a sergeant.

File photo of CO Jeff Goss with illegally taken deer. A poached trophy buck 8-10 points will have a heavier fine; $2000 plus $500 per point, 11-pointers and up will be $750 per point!

When I was the sergeant for Macomb and St. Clair counties in the 1990s there were eight Conservation Officers assigned to those two counties. Currently there are two COs in St. Clair County, two assigned to Macomb, two assigned to Wayne and one CO assigned to Monroe County. Some of these COs are spending time covering surrounding counties when needed as well. This is not enough to handle all of the activity in SE Michigan. The total area incudes patrolling the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, Lake Erie and the land surface of those four counties.

Conservation Officers are not only enforcing fish and game laws, ORV, snowmobile and marine laws, they are also State Peace Officers and have the ability to enforce all criminal laws in Michigan, including traffic violations. They often run into criminal violations of all kinds while patrolling the 83 counties in Michigan. As an example, in Grand Traverse County in 2013 a CO responded to assist Deputies on a call of a man with a gun inside a residence. Once the officers arrived the suspect opened fire at them. He was arrested on multiple felonies and is now serving a lengthy prison term.

More great news to help fight poaching is a new law signed by the Governor that increases fines for poachers who poach trophy, 8-point or larger bucks, according to Lt. Craig Grey, supervisor of the LED training.

Currently if you poach a deer you are fined up to $1000, loss of hunting privileges for the year convicted and the next three, restitution of $1000 for the deer,(that goes to the fish and game fund), plus a mandatory jail sentence of at least five days but not more than 90 days.

Under the new law which becomes effective in February, if you poach a buck the restitution will change. There is an additional $1000 in restitution for any antlered buck poached. The restitution is even higher if the buck has at least 8-points, $500 per point. It will cost the poacher $750 per point if the buck has at least 11 points. Doing the math, the restitution for the 8-point will be $2000 ($1000 for the deer and $1000 for an antlered deer) plus an additional $500 for each of the 8-points for a grand total of $6000.

Also, the poacher’s hunting privileges will be revoked for seven years for the first offence and 10 years for the second offence. Most hunters don’t realize the amount of trophy buck poaching there is in the State of Michigan. There are a lot of hunters who put in a lot of hard work, effort, time and money in order to attempt to harvest a trophy buck on their property and on state land. This new law over time should reduce the amount of trophy buck poaching and give the hunter a better opportunity to harvest quality animals. It should also allow smaller bucks to grown into bigger bucks.

So, poachers beware. If you have been poaching deer, or thinking about poaching deer, you might want to stop and think about whether you can afford it.

Another law passed to help fight poachers who are trespassing is Senate Bill 172. This new law will increase fines and penalties for people who trespass and kill an animal. Fines also increase for subsequent trespassing violations and allow property owners to recover costs from the trespassers.

If you know of anyone who is committing these or any DNR related crimes contact the Report All Poaching Hotline (RAP) at 1-800-292-7800. The phone is covered 24 hours a day and 365 days-a-year. You can remain anonymous. Conservation Officers have made hundreds of cases since the RAP Hotline first started in 1980. Some of the best poaching arrests made in Michigan have been called into the RAP hotline. Cash rewards are paid out for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of poachers.

Author is Jeff Pendergraff, a retired Captain from the Law Enforcement Division of the DNR.