By BILL BISWANGER
Sunday, December 28, 2003 - Sun Outdoors Writer
A major wildlife poaching ring operating near the
Maine-New Hampshire border was cracked by a sting on Dec. 15, following a
two-year covert investigation by Maine Fish and Wildlife.
Ten search warrants were executed in western Maine and two
in New Hampshire.
As a result of the raid, 15 individuals were charged with
numerous wildlife crimes, and officials seized firearms; deer, bear and wild
turkey meat; and illegal drugs.
The only New Hampshire resident arrested in the raid was
John Hart, 43, of Conway. Hart has been charged with 14 counts of various
wildlife offenses dealing with the illegal taking of deer, bear and wild
turkey. Others in New Hampshire have been questioned as a result of the
investigation, and more charges may be pending, according to the NH. Fish
and Game Department.
"Maine Fish and Wildlife did an outstanding job
investigating the illegal taking of wildlife in both states," said Col.
Jeffrey Gray, Chief of Law Enforcement at N.H. Fish and Game. "As a
result of this operation, a major wildlife poaching operation has been uncovered."
Hunting seasons are not currently open in New Hampshire or
Maine for deer, bear or wild turkey. The alleged poachers were killing
multiple deer, bear and other wildlife at night, out of season, on posted
land, on roadways, out of cars and by driving deer in large, organized
groups, officials said.
"It was clear that this group felt that the state's fish
and wildlife laws did not apply to them, and they killed whatever they
wanted, whenever they wanted," said Maj. Tom Santaguida of the Maine Warden
Service. "Yet, they felt they were smart enough not to get caught because
they didn't poach deer in certain areas at certain times."
In all, 86 officers participated in the operation,
including wildlife officers from Maine and New Hampshire, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife agents, Maine State Police troopers, the Maine State Police
Tactical Team and the Oxford County Sheriff's Office.
The scope of the effort made it one of the largest
operations in the history of the Maine Warden Service.