A poacher was handed a sizeable fine in provincial court last week for the illegal killing of a pregnant cow elk on First Nations land in the Columbia Valley.
Lethbridge resident Zacharias Garratt netted $4,025 in fines, seizure of his rifle, as well as a two-year hunting prohibition in both Alberta and B.C. for his actions on February 19th, 2017 on the Akisqnuk reserve.
“There was a resident in his home on the reservation who heard the shot, looked out of his house, and actually saw the elk dying,” reports Invermere Conservation Officer Greg Kruger. “He watched Mr. Garratt walk up to the elk, and then Mr. Garratt left in the same way.”
The witness called a local councillor, who went on-site and called the Conservation Officer Service.
In the meantime, two local First Nations members arrived in a truck and claimed they had killed the cow elk, Mr. Kruger reports. Mr. Garratt also returned to the site. While local First Nations are able to hunt on their own territory, no non-First Nations members are allowed to do so at any time. B.C. hunters can apply for a limited-entry cow-elk draw, open for a short window each fall; no out-of province hunting of cow elk is ever allowed. Out-of-province hunters can only hunt with a registered guide or a B.C. resident with correct licensing for six-point or larger bull elk.
When questioned on-scene, these individuals produced conflicting stories. That, added to the unmatched tire tracks and the single boot track visible through the freshly-fallen snow to the elk, led Conservation Officers to seize the gun as well as the boots off Mr. Garratt’s feet as evidence, and charged all three under the B.C. Wildlife Act.
Mr. Garrett was charged with four counts: hunting without a license, killing wildlife not within the open season; unlawful possession of dead wildlife, and; obstructing Conservation Officers in their duty. The result of the sentencing by Judge Sheard in provincial court Thursday, September 6th, was a stay of proceedings for counts one and three (hunting without a licence and unlawful possession of dead wildlife). For the charge of killing wildlife not within the open season, Mr. Garratt was sentenced to $3,450 in fines. For obstructing a Conservation Officer, he was given a $575 fine. He was also given a two-year hunting prohibition in B.C. and, thanks to a reciprocal agreement with Alberta, the same prohibition in his home province. He also forfeited his high-powered hunting rifle with scope, an approximate value of $1,500.
“It sends a very strong message,” said Mr. Kruger. “We wanted the penalty to send a message that the province takes this seriously, and we hope it offers a deterrent.”
Mr. Kruger says this type of illegal activity is often very hard to detect. Akisqnuk First Nation was helpful in collaborating with COS during the investigation. And in this case, the combination of timing, investigative work, partnerships with Akisqnuk
and some luck thanks to the freshly-fallen snow, helped lead to the conviction.
“Fish and wildlife crimes can be very hard for us to detect. We rely on public reporting, as in this case. We encourage people – if anybody witnesses illegal or suspicious activity – to please call RAPP,” says Mr. Kruger.
He urges hunters to know the rules and hunt lawfully.
“The law’s in place to protect the resource, and this type of activity has a negative impact on the wildlife.”
The cow elk was found to be pregnant with two fetuses inside. The elk meat was preserved and donated back to the Akisqnuk Band to distribute.
The two First Nations individuals who assisted with the coverup have plead guilty to obstructing a Conservation Officer in their duties, and are to be sentenced at a later date.
To report suspicious hunting activity, call the RAPP line at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277) or cell dial #7277.