Tag Archives: black bear

Bogus guide, client from Wisconsin guilty of poaching in Canada

Two Wisconsin men were found guilty of illegal guiding and poaching across the border in Canada and it’s partly because of their own Facebook posts that they were caught.

U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad of the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced the two Milwaukee-area men pleaded guilty in federal court for violating the Lacey Act and lying about it to a federal officer. The violations are related to the unlawful importation of wildlife into the United States that had been killed in Ontario, Canada, in violation of Canadian law.

In late 2013, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conservation officers looked into complaints relating to the illegal hunting activities of Reid Viertel, of West Allis,  and various associates, including Terry Schmit, of Franklin. The complaints partly were based on public Facebook posts by Viertel and Schmit in which they bragged about their successful hunting trips in Canada.

As a part of their investigation, Canadian officials reached out to a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to interview the men. Together, with assistance from wardens with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement, the agent learned this was much more than a hunting trip.

At the time of the interviews, Viertel was suspected of operating an illegal guiding service in Ontario to hunt for wolves, bear and white-tailed deer and was also suspected of poaching on those trips.

Viertel, a medically-retired firefighter, was doing business as Hero Driven Outfitters during this time, a self-described nonprofit whose mission, as noted on the group’s Facebook page was “to take disabled firefighters, law enforcement officers, and military personnel to the woods hunting and fishing.”

Schmit was one of those clients.

As a part of this scheme, Schmit was suspected of killing a black bear illegally during his trip in Ontario and allegedly used a bear license from a mentally disabled Canadian resident to make his black bear look legitimate.

“Wildlife crime knows no borders and I commend our Canadian counterparts, Wisconsin’s conservation wardens and our special agents for a solid investigation,” Edward Grace, deputy assistant director for law enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated in a news release.

Along with Canadian law enforcement agents, the Wisconsin-based investigative team determined that Viertel shot and killed a timber wolf in February 2012 without having an Ontario license.

The team also determined that in August 2013, Schmit traveled to Ontario with Viertel, where Schmit had shot and killed a black bear, also without a license. Schmit used a bear license from a Canadian resident to make his bear kill look legitimate. In both instances, Viertel falsified export documents from Ontario for the purpose of illegally importing the animal carcasses into the United States.

“This case illustrates the partnership that takes place among conservation agencies,” stated Todd Schaller, chief warden with the Bureau of Law Enforcement in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

In June, Schmit pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the Lacey Act, and was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, the forfeiture of the black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and/or trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2019.

Following this verdict, Viertel pleaded guilty to two offenses and was sentenced to three years of probation, to include at least 25 hours per year of environmental community service, forfeiture of the wolf and black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and/or trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2021.

Viertel also was ordered to serve the 2016 deer gun season from Nov. 19 through Nov. 27 in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and to pay the cost of his incarceration.

In the court proceedings, Haanstad said “the prosecution of offenders who intentionally violate wildlife laws helps protect and preserve natural resources both within and outside the United States.”

The prosecution was handled by assistant U.S Attorney Paul L. Kanter.

The court case follows the Canadian proceedings from December 2015, when Viertel and Schmit were convicted and collectively fined a total of $11,000 for a number of infractions.

In addition to these fines, Viertel lost his Canadian hunting privileges for 15 years and Schmit’s lost his for five years.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act is a federal law enforced by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell wildlife taken in violation of state, federal, tribal and foreign laws or regulations. The act defines the sale of wildlife to include the sale of guiding services for the illegal taking of wildlife. When the act was passed in 1900, it became the first federal law to protect wildlife. It enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. Today, it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive, or non-native, species

Obama administration enacts protections for lions

The Obama administration’s decision to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions is a turning point for the lions now roaming Africa, advocacy groups say.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signaled in a document obtained by the Associated Press that it would classify the lion as threatened or endangered across its entire range in Africa. The agency has scheduled a noon conference call to discuss its findings.

The Humane Society of the United States projects that American trophy hunters imported 5,647 lions in the past decade. The group’s president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, said he expects that the regulations will make it much harder to bring lion hides back to the U.S, thus removing a key motivation for hunters.

“If a particular hunt is not associated with a broader conservation program, it can’t come in,” Pacelle said.

The listings are accompanied by a directive that appears to touch on circumstances surrounding the killing of a well-known lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe earlier this year. The order states that the Fish and Wildlife Service will deny a permit to import a sport-hunted lion to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to violating federal or state wildlife laws.

Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, had pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorized hunting zone.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned against linking the order with Cecil’s death, describing the action instead as a redoubling of efforts to ensure that violators of wildlife laws don’t reap future benefits from importing wildlife and wildlife products.

The administration signaled it would protect lions in Africa long before Cecil’s case caught the public’s attention. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule in October 2014 to list the African lion as threatened. After getting feedback, the agency revised its findings.

It determined that two subspecies of lions live in Africa. One group, found primarily in western and central countries, is more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. Only about 1,400 remain in Africa and India. The agency is listing that subspecies as endangered, meaning it risks extinction.

A second subspecies, numbering between 17,000 and 19,000 and found across southern and eastern Africa, will be listed as threatened.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to list species as endangered or threatened regardless of the country where they live.

“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us _ not just the people of Africa and India _ to take action,” said Dan Ashe, the agency’s director.

The listings will bring extra protection for both subspecies: A permit would be required before importing any live or sport-hunted lions. The bar for an import permit would be highest with the endangered group, with permits granted if importing the animal would enhance the species’ survival.

The permitting process for the threatened group would require the import to come from nations that have sound conservation practices and use trophy hunting revenue to sustain lion populations and deter poaching. Currently, sport hunters don’t need a permit from the U.S. to bring in a trophy lion.

Ashe said trophy hunting can and does contribute to the survival of species in the wild as part of a well-managed conservation program. The new permitting requirements in the U.S. will encourage African countries to improve their lion management programs. The agency said hundreds of sport-hunted trophy lions are brought into the U.S. each year.

The agency already has authority to deny an import permit to individuals who have violated federal and state wildlife laws. Ashe’s order essentially turns that authority into a requirement.

“Importing sport-hunted trophies and other wildlife or animal parts into the United States is a privilege, not a right, a privilege that violators of wildlife laws have demonstrated they do not deserve,” Ashe said.

The agency said its investigation into the Cecil’s killing is ongoing and declined to comment directly on the case.

Cecil was a major tourist attraction in Hwange National Park and was being monitored as part of an Oxford University study. Palmer said he shot the big cat outside the park’s borders, but it didn’t die immediately and was tracked down the next day.

Palmer said he would not have shot the animal if anybody in the hunting party has known of the lion’s status. Zimbabwe officials cleared Palmer of wrongdoing in October, saying he didn’t break the country’s hunting laws.

As Zimbabwe seeks to extradite American who slaughtered lion, donations pour in for conservation group

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrects money raised to U.S. dollars

A pair of U.S. philanthropists with a passion for wild cats pledged Friday to match new donations to Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit — the researchers who were tracking the movements of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

Tom Kaplan, a natural resource investor whose net worth was put by Forbes magazine at $1 billion, and his wife, Daphne, will match donations made after 3 p.m. London time Friday up to a total value of $100,000. The Kaplans hope to help the Oxford researchers raise half a million pounds to further their work.

More than the equivalent of half a million in U.S. dollars has already been raised from all over the world — $150,000 of it in the 24 hours after Jimmy Kimmel made a tearful plea for funding to assist WildCRU’s conservation efforts.

David McDonald, the director and founder of WildCRU, thanked Kimmel with a message on the organization’s website that said: “Jimmy Kimmel implored his millions of listeners in the USA to make donations to support our work on lions, and conservation more widely. We are so grateful for this and for the up-welling of support for our work worldwide.”

Kaplan said he was spurred into action to maintain the conservation momentum that Cecil’s death sparked.

“We have to seize this moment where we can all make a difference,” Tom Kaplan said in a statement, adding that if the “death of Cecil can lead to the saving of many more lions, then some good can come from tragedy.”

The pledge comes hours after Zimbabwe started extradition proceedings for the American dentist who paid two locals $50,000 to help him lure the lion out of a national park under cover of night and shot him with a crossbow. The wounded lion roamed for 40 hours in pain before the three men found, shot, skinned and decapitated the beloved animal.

Walter Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA,” Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister, told CNN.

But the Bloomington, Minnesota, dentist apparently has gone in to hiding. He briefly hired a public relations agency, but the firm quickly dropped him as a client. His business and suburban Minneapolis McMansion have been shuttered and all of his social media profiles have been erased.

A representative of Palmer’s contacted the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement late yesterday, but Palmer has yet to surface.

Cecil was not the first large mammal doomed to an illegal death by “trophy hunter” Palmer. The Bloomington, Minnesota, resident was convicted of poaching a black bear he killed in Wisconsin several years ago.

Records also show that Palmer had other impulse-control issues. His dental practice’s insurance company paid $127,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a former receptionist there.

Palmer, who donated $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, was also ordered to take management and ethics classes.

The slaughter of Cecil, a protected and internationally beloved resident of Hwange National Park, has touched off international outrage and sparked a worldwide conversation as to how to best safeguard the dwindling number of big cats. It has also harmed the local economy. Zimbabwe officials estimated that Cecil brought the area about $100,000 in tourism.

Oxford’s WildCRU, one of the world’s top university research groups, tracks the movements of hundreds of lions and runs an anti-poaching team. It also works with local farmers to help them live alongside the lions. It had followed Cecil’s movements in minute detail since 2008.

To make a donation to WildCRU from North America, click here.

Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer sought in illegal slaughter of Cecil, a protected and beloved lion, in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean police said Tuesday they are searching for American tourist Water Palmer, a Minnesota dentist who allegedly shot a beloved, protected lion known as Cecil with a crossbow in a killing that has outraged conservationists and others.  A petition calling for justice for the lion has topped more than 332,000 signatures. (Sign petition demanding justice for Cecil.)

Authorities on Tuesday said two Zimbabwean men will appear in court for allegedly helping lure the lion outside of its protected area to kill it. The American faces poaching charges, according to police spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

The American allegedly paid $50,000 to hunt the lion, Zimbabwean conservationists said, though the hunter and is local partners maintain they didn’t know the lion they killed was protected.

Palmer, a Minnesota dentists, was identified on Tuesday by both the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe as the American hunter, a name that police then confirmed. 

This was not the first time that Palmer, an avid hunter, has run afoul of the law in his pursuit of big game. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside of the authorized hunting zone, according to court documents.

“We arrested two people and now we are looking for Palmer in connection with the same case,” Charamba said.

Emmanuel Fundira, the president of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, said at a news conference that Palmer’ current whereabouts were unknown.

Palmer issued a statement saying he was unaware that the lion was so well known and part of a study.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” he said, maintaining that to his knowledge, everything about the hunt had been legal.

Attempts to reach Palmer, 55, at his two listed home numbers and his office by phone and in person were unsuccessful. Palmer’s River Bluff dental practice in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is shuttered.

This was not the first time Palmer has run afoul of the law in pursuit of his blood sport. The avid hunter pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside of the authorized hunting zone, according to court documents.

The two arrested Zimbabwean men — a professional hunter and a farm owner — face poaching charges, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said in a joint statement. Killing the lion was illegal because the farm owner did not have a hunting permit, the joint statement said. The lion was skinned and beheaded. The hunters tried to destroy the lion’s collar, fitted with a tracking device, but failed, the statement said.

If convicted, the men face up to 15 years in prison.

The lion is believed to have been killed on July 1 in western Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich Hwange region, its carcass discovered days later by trackers, the statement said.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a statement that an American paid the $50,000 for the hunt. During a nighttime hunt, the men tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park, said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. The American is believed to have shot it with a crossbow, injuring the animal. The wounded, suffering lion was found 40 hours later, and shot dead with a gun, Rodrigues said in the statement. 

Cecil was then skinned and decapitated, presumably so Palmer would have the head — or “trophy” — preserved and mounted on a wall.

“The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho will most likely kill all Cecil’s cubs,” said Rodrigues.

The Zimbabwean hunter accused in the case claimed that Cecil was not specifically targeted, and the group only learning after the fact that they had killed a well-known lion, according to the Safari Operators Association.

Cecil, recognizable by his black mane, was being studied by an Oxford University research program, the conservation group said.

Tourists regularly spotted his characteristic mane in the park over the last 13 years, said Lion Aid, also a conservation group.

Associated Press reporters Amy Forliti in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this report.