By Breanne Massey

Pioneer Staff

Local Ministry of Environment conservation officer Greg Kruger has voiced concerns about the dangers of poaching and is urging the community along with hunters and wildlife advocates to be mindful about wildlife conflicts and to crack down on those who hunt illegally.

Mr. Kruger acknowledged two men from Canal Flats were recently convicted of several BC Wildlife Act offences in Invermere Provincial Court on Monday, January 11th after the duo illegally shot a cow elk dead on March 16th, 2015.

The big message that the conservation office would like to get out to the public is that, unfortunately, there are illegal hunting activities going on throughout the province and in this area, where people disregard the rules for hunting, he said. And thats why we, the province and the COs, offer the service of a public reporting (RAP) line because we can by no means be everywhere at one time.

We really rely on the public thats in the backcountry, whether they be hunters, recreational enthusiasts or in this case people at home who witnessed a crime even if they dont know theres an offence taking place, he said.

If they suspect a problem, we really appreciate getting that information and encourage people to use that number, he added.

The hunting methods used by the poachers (unveiled during a series of investigations and then discussed in court in detail) left a sour taste in Mr. Krugers mouth.

It was after daytime hours so lights of the vehicle were used to illuminate the elk before it was shot on a publicly maintained road within a 100 metres of two occupied houses, said Mr. Kruger.

There were a number of violations against the wildlife act, obviously from this, so the RCMP basically started the investigation when a complaint came in from the public of a shot being fired in the dark by their house the RCMP apprehended the fellows but at that point, but nobody knew that an elk had been shot because that information wasnt given to the RCMP, he said.

However, a concerned citizen reported blood and elk hair on the same road a day after the police had been called to investigate the fired shots.

We went down and picked up the investigation from that point and we were able to confirm that an elk had been illegally killed on this private property, said Mr. Kruger, noting the elk was shot on someone elses property on Sun Creek Road north of Canal Flats.

Through the investigation, we were able to determine who our suspects were and where this illegal (catch) had been taken to. Through that, we were able to seize the elk meat that we were able to get from these (poachers) and piece together what happened in an investigation.

In addition, Mr. Kruger passed along the information that was collected during the investigation to the Crown counsel to move forward with charges.

Canal Flats residents Justin Gertner and Corey Kopp were convicted of hunting wildlife outside of the open season; hunting without reasonable consideration for the lives, safety or property of other people; and discharging a firearm on or across the travelled portion of a highway.

The verdict (at court) or the end result was (Gertner and Kopp) were found guilty on three of several Wildlife Act charges that we had put forward, said Mr. Kruger.

Basically, it was a mutual agreement between Crown counsel and their defence to plead guilty to those charges and the others would be dropped, said Mr. Kruger.

They each received a total of $3,000 monetary penalties or fines; a two year hunting prohibition for each of them; and then the rifle that was used to kill that elk was forfeited to the government and that will be a lost right (valued around $2,000) to them, he told The Pioneer.

Mr. Kruger explained how striving to protect wildlife for nearly 16 years has provided him with insight about preventing the victimization of animals. He emphasized the importance of following the permitted times that occur during open hunting season, which includes one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. Mr. Kruger said that this case is one of the more flagrant that he has encountered in his decade and a half of work in his field.

Every case is different but over my career, I have dealt with some serious poaching files but this one is a little bit unique based on the circumstances and the totality of the crimes that were committed, Mr. Kruger concluded.

This elk was killed well after the open hunting season and the fact is this was a cow-elk, so there is no time and open hunting season for them these are very serious offences against the Wildlife Act that (demonstrate) a blatant disregard for the rules of hunting and further to that, basically, a disregard to public safety due to the fact that it (the elk) was shot from a road within a 100 metres of two houses with people in them at night, which is a safety issue as well, because its unclear where the bullet is going if theres a dark background.

To report poaching or environmental violations 24/7, call 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP).