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Agencies work together to enforce game laws

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FLATHEAD RESERVATION – The multi-jurisdictional checkerboard of private, public, and tribal lands creates challenges for catching violators of game laws on the Flathead Reservation, but cooperation between the agencies last year led to prosecution of several wrongdoers.

“We have a great working relationship with the state of Montana right now,” Pablo Espinoza, chief of tribal game enforcement,  said in a recent presentation to the Flathead Fish and Wildlife Board. “It’s the best it’s ever been.”

State Game Warden Ron Howell was assigned to the Flathead Reservation last year and began working cooperatively with tribal officials.

“He’s proven to be a perfect fit,” Espinoza said. “We’ve had a really good year with him.” 

In addition to collaborating on public outreach and education events, Howell primarily works with the tribe on large game cases that involve non-tribal members, Espinoza said. Big game poaching is one of the biggest problems game enforcement officers see, Espinoza said.

In one instance, a man shot four deer near the scenic turnout just south of Ronan, and tribal and state police caught him red-handed.

Catching one of the perpetrators can deter their cohorts.

“After that one particular case it seemed like everything dwindled real quick. I usually have a lot of problems with that group that he associates with,” Tribal Game Investigator Mike McElderry said.

In another instance, an off-duty tribal police officer reported a case of an illegally killed buck shot by a non-tribal member to Howell. State and tribal police descended on the poacher, who stuck a state license on the animal.

Lee Anderson, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Captain Lee Anderson said Howell has a penchant for building relationships with police and civilians. 

“He’s got an innate ability to get confessions from these folks,” Anderson said. “Lots of people can get confessions, but they don’t necessarily get a handshake when they are walking out the door. That’s one thing he’s got. He’s real respectful of people.”

Interagency cooperation also helps enforce rules on federal lands. Federal Wildlife Officer Mike Koole works thousands of acres on the Flathead Reservation.

A current case Koole and the Tribe are collaborating on involves the shooting of a trumpeter swan. 

“We’ve got some good information and are hopeful we’ll solve that,” Espinoza said. 

In another instance Koole and Howard were able to catch people killing geese illegally.

Flathead Reservation Fish and Wildlife Board Chairman Joe Brenneman said the cooperation is an example of how the state and tribes can work together, even as they disagree on other topics, including management of Flathead Lake.“It’s how it’s supposed to work,” Brenneman said.

Tribal game citations 

Total 2013:                                                            58 

Trespass, no permit:                                            29

Hunting, non-members:                                        2

Failure to report elk harvest:                         1

Illegal bull trout harvest:                                 9

Illegal use of gas boat:                                   1 

Shooting from public roadway:                   1 

Illegal deer harvest, non-member:                 1

Waste of meat:                                         1

Recreation in a closed area:                     2

Fishing without stamp:                             1

Camping without stamp:                         4

Use of vehicles on non-roads:                   2

Shooting geese after hours:                     2

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