Busted: Scofflaws keep state conservation officers busy

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Department of Natural Resources

Michigan conservation officer badge.

Capital News Service 

LANSING – Ever wonder what conservation officers at the Department of Natural Resources do in the winter?

Their job certainly isn’t boring, as reflected in DNR reports for a two-week period in January.

Conservation Officer Jackson Kelly was on patrol at Bass Lake in Marquette County and found a pair of ice anglers with a large pile of northern pike next to their shanty. Asked how many fish there were, they claimed not to know, but he counted 15 – five over the limit.

Kelly ticketed them, one of whom “has had numerous violations in the past couple of years.”

Elsewhere in the Upper Peninsula, Officer Phil Helminen was checking people who were ice fishing and spoke with a man who was spearing northern pike on a lake that is closed to spearing pike. The angler admitted not checking the regulations about lakes closed to spearing.

The report noted, “The fish were seized, and enforcement action was taken.”

In the Eastern U.P., a trapper called Conservation Officer Todd Sumbera for confirmation that he’d caught a coyote with a cable restraint.

Turns out the trapper caught a wolf, not a coyote, and Sumbera discovered a dozen illegally placed cable restraints on state land. 

A Report All Poaching hotline tip led Conservation Officer Dan Liestenfeltz to a site in Montmorency County where someone had shot turkeys from a backyard. 

The homeowner confessed to shooting four to five turkeys, killing one and wounding the others, and Liestenfeltz seized his air rifle as evidence.

In Alpena County, Conservation Officer Alex Bourgeois saw a man throw something from a bucket into the tree line of his yard near Fletcher Pond. 

“The man stated that he was ‘disposing of some compost,’” the DNR report said, but Bourgeois “found huge piles of carrots, corn and sugar beets” by the tree line and more carrots and corn piled down the trail.

The man was ticketed for deer baiting.

When Conservation Officer James Nason received a complaint about illegal hunting of sandhill cranes south of Kalamazoo, he discovered that the suspect had videotaped himself shooting a .22-caliber rifle from a second-floor bedroom window, across a road into a cornfield where there were hundreds of sandhill cranes, which are protected by federal law. 

In another photo case, this one in Gladwin County, Conservation Officers Cheyanna Rizor and Jeff Goss found a baited blind where someone had killed a 9-point buck after hunting hours. They also found a trail camera, which had data and location evidence.

“The photos included the suspect putting out bait the day the deer was shot. Another showed the lighted nock on the arrow actually striking the deer, and the last photo showed the suspect walking past the camera three minutes after the deer was shot,” the report said. 

Among other reported cases were bear baiting, illegally blowing up a beaver dam, poaching, failing to register ORVs, breaking the snowmobile speed limit, hunting after hours, camping without a permit, trespassing and failing to appear in court on other charges. Some involved assisting local law enforcement officers.

Then there was Conservation Officer Jon Sklba’s traffic stop of a vehicle without a license plate in Presque Isle County.

The driver, who looked underage, turned out to be only 14, while his vehicle was unregistered and uninsured.

Sklba contacted the boy’s father who was “seemingly unaware of what his child was doing,” according to the DNR report. “The father also had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Enforcement action was taken.”

There were rescue missions as well during those two weeks.

In Shiawassee County, Conservation Office Lisa Taube responded when a pheasant hunter accidentally got shot. 

The hunter’s weapon was leaning against her body with the butt stock on the ground and the muzzle pointing upward. Her dog “jumped onto her, and its paws hit the gun, causing the safety to be disengaged and the trigger to be pressed, shooting her in the left shoulder and cheek,” the DNR report said. She was treated at a hospital. 

Officers also helped accident victims, searched for missing persons, fought fires and rescued a  snowmobile that got stuck while trying to cross open waters. 

In an unusual rescue, Conservation Officer Cullen Knoblauch helped Jackson County sheriff’s deputies pull out a doe that fell through the ice on a pond.

“The deer was removed from the lake but ended up passing away from exposure,” the report said.

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