GREEN RIVER - Two Wyoming men were recently convicted on multiple wildlife violations in Sweetwater County. What started with concerns about wasted game birds led Wyoming Game and Fish Department game wardens — in coordination with Green River probation and parole officers — to uncover numerous wildlife violations committed in 2019 and 2020 by Justin Chewning and Steven Macy, resulting in close to $15,000 in fines and loss of hunting and fishing privileges for both men.
During the course of a wasted game bird investigation, Game and Fish wardens learned between Oct. 1 - Oct. 6, 2019 both Chewning and Macy illegally killed mature bull elk within Elk Hunt Area 100 during the closed season, which they tagged with general elk licenses.
Wardens were able to determine the locations where the elk were killed. They also found the carcass from the bull elk illegally killed by Chewning on Oct. 1, 2019. DNA analysis conducted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Forensics Laboratory confirmed the carcass at the kill site was a match to the skull and antlers Chewning had in his possession. The lab verified there was a 1 in 5 billion chance that another elk had the same DNA.
On Oct. 4, 2020 Chewning and Macy were hunting deer in Sublette county when Macy illegally killed a buck mule deer and Chewning illegally tagged it. Later that same day, while returning from the Pinedale area to Rock Springs, the two men hunted elk in Elk Hunt Area 100 with general elk licenses. Elk Area 100 is limited quota and didn't open until Oct. 8, 2020 for properly licensed hunters. Macy shot and killed two mature bull elk, and Chewning tagged one of the two illegally killed bull elk with his general elk license.
Chewning was charged with ten violations which included five counts of intentionally taking antlered big game without a license or during a closed season; two counts of transferring a license; two counts of intentionally wasting edible portions of game bird and big game back straps; and five counts of transporting game without a Wyoming Interstate Game Tag, related to five skulls with antlers attached that Chewning had illegally collected. Chewning pleaded guilty to three counts of intentionally taking antlered bull elk without a proper license, one count of taking a buck mule deer without a license, and one count of transferring a license. Chewning's hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for fifteen years and was ordered to pay fines of $1,585 and restitution of $7,000. All wildlife seized was forfeited to the State of Wyoming. All other charges were dismissed.
Macy was charged with five counts of intentionally taking antlered big game without a license or during a closed season and two counts of transferring a license. Macy pleaded no contest to one count of taking a buck mule deer without a license and two counts of intentionally taking a bull elk without the proper license. Macy's hunting and fishing privileges were suspended for two years and was ordered to pay $5,640 in fines, restitution of $1,500 and to forfeit the Browning .338 rifle used in the commission of these crimes to the State of Wyoming. All other charges were dismissed.
Game Warden Kelli Pauling said: "This investigation would not have been successful without the skilled assistance provided by Green River Probation and Parole Office, the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Department, the Sweetwater County Attorney's Office and the Sublette County Attorney's Office."
- WGFD -
LANDER - A federal plea deal was reached recently in a Lacey Act case involving wildlife baiting. Michael and Teresa Rinehart, formerly of Kinnear, pled guilty in federal court in late 2021 and agreed to a plea deal for violations of the federal wildlife trafficking law. The couple was ordered to pay $60,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for the value of the illegally-killed wildlife. Both defendants were placed on one year of unsupervised probation and had their hunting privileges suspended worldwide for one year.
In 2011, Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game seized trail cameras on tribal lands near the boundary of Rinehart's Wind River Whitetail Ranch. The Rineharts were non-native private landowners. The game camera photos showed the defendants putting out large piles of corn during the fall hunting season. The cameras and corn were located in shooting lanes in front of large, elevated permanent hunting blinds located on Rinehart's property, situated on the boundary between the reservation and their property.
The Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game wardens asked Game and Fish law enforcement for assistance with the case as it appeared the Rineharts were illegally hunting deer over bait both on the reservation and on non-native private lands for their outfitting business. The business catered to resident and nonresident white-tailed deer hunters. Game and Fish enlisted the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and together collected evidence over the next year.
The investigation confirmed the Rinehart's placed bait so their clients could kill deer which is a violation of Wyoming hunting regulations. The Rineharts charged hunters up to $3,000 for each deer hunt. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement contacted clients in 11 different states.
The cooperative investigation led to charging the Rineharts with a federal Lacey Act violation, due to the value of the outfitted hunts and transport of illegally taken wildlife by nonresidents.
In addition to the baiting violations, some clients also took over limits of deer and harvested deer without a license, among other crimes. Following the closure of the federal aspect of the case, the Fremont County Attorney's Office is reviewing the case and could charge up to 30 clients with various wildlife violations in Wyoming state court.
As in most wildlife cases, lawful hunters and members of the public were essential to the investigation, reporting unusual deer movements and suspicious activity at the ranch to Game and Fish.
The successful case was a cooperative effort between the Game and Fish, USFWS, Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game, Fremont County Sheriff's Office, FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office and Fremont County Prosecutor's Office.
- WGFD -
Casper - The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently completed a multi-year investigation of a Wyoming resident living on the Grazing Hills Ranch near Natrona for wildlife crimes. The investigation culminated with a plea agreement and $45,070 in fines and restitution.
A tip from the public through the Stop Poaching Hotline alerted Game and Fish to possible violations. The investigation revealed the suspect had been killing mule deer and pronghorn without licenses and during closed seasons. He then substituted big game meat for beef to sustain his jerky business. The business sold products to unsuspecting customers throughout Wyoming as well as online.
During the investigation, Game and Fish game wardens located multiple deer and pronghorn antelope carcasses. Investigators sent tissue and jerky samples from these animals to the Game and Fish Wildlife Forensic Lab for DNA comparison. Through this work, the lab was able to identify a combination of 18 unique mule deer and pronghorn antelope that were poached.
After the investigation, wardens assisted by deputies from the Natrona County Sheriff's Office, arrested the man and charged him with 26 wildlife violations. In a plea agreement reached with the state, the Natrona resident pleaded no contest to killing a buck mule deer and a buck antelope without a license and during a closed season. He was also charged as an accessory to the killing of another buck mule deer and a buck antelope without a license and during a closed season. The plea agreement also included two counts of wanton destruction of big game animals and three counts of selling game meat. In exchange for his no-contest plea, the District Attorney dismissed the remaining charges.
In total, the court assessed $45,070 worth of fines and restitution. The man had his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges suspended for a minimum of five years and is not eligible to hunt in Wyoming or 48 other states who are members of the Wildlife Violator Compact until all his restitution monies are paid in full. Additionally, the court forfeited all firearms seized by Game and Fish, all illegal wildlife parts and all supplies associated with the sale of game meat.
"Game and Fish is grateful to the Natrona County District Attorney's Office for their diligent work on this case, along with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office and the person who came forward with this information. This type of case can significantly impact Wyoming's wildlife. It may have gone undetected without the public's help," said Brian Olsen, Casper region wildlife supervisor.
To report wildlife violations, visit the Game and Fish website, call the Stop Poaching Hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP or text keyword WGFD and message to (307) 847-411.
- WGFD -
Laramie – An Idaho couple recently paid fines in Wyoming for transporting live pheasant chicks without permits.
In April of 2021, West Cheyenne Game Warden Spencer Carstens received a tip from a concerned citizen about an online advertisement offering day-old pheasant chicks for sale. A husband and wife wanted to raise pheasants on their small Idaho farm. "A previous order for live birds had apparently resulted in them receiving a number of birds which had died during transport. This time around, they opted to bolster their effort by personally picking up the birds in Wisconsin." Carstens said, "To help cover their travel expenses, they more than doubled their original order and then tried to sell the extra birds on the trip back home."
Wyoming has long been careful to minimize risk in the handling or movement of live wildlife. "An introduced animal can be very dangerous to the ecosystem, as it will often compete with local wildlife for similar resources, it may carry diseases or parasites local animals have not developed immunities to, and, in some cases, may interbreed with native species and dilute natural genetics," Carstens says. "Even though a species may not cause problems in its native land, subtle differences may allow them to quickly become problems in a new environment."
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has enacted a number of regulations covering the possession of live wildlife (Chapter 10), game bird farms (Chapter 40), scientific research (Chapter 33), with still more rules specifically applying to specialized activities such as possessing raptors for falconry purposes (Chapter 25). Wyoming Livestock Board regulations also cover the movement of most live animals in order to further protect the health of Wyoming's animals, the livestock industry, and the general public. Both agencies require paperwork certifying the health of imported animals.
With the proper permits, passing a basic facility inspection to ensure the animal can be cared for appropriately and with a minimal risk of its escape, and obtaining veterinarian-certified healthy birds, people can possess live pheasants, often for uses such as dog training, human consumption, or simply as a unique pet. Applications and forms for possessing or importing live wildlife can be found by accessing the "Permits" menu tab from the top of the WGFD website https://wgfd.wyo.gov.The Idaho couple made no apparent attempt to obtain any permits for any of the states traveled, they did not stop at interstate ports of entry for commercial transport permits, and there was no health certificate for the more than 2,000 live birds in their possession. "Luckily, they had purchased the birds from a reputable National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) certified hatchery and we were able to allow them the take the remaining birds to Idaho," Warden Carstens said.
The birds sold to three Wyoming households were not so lucky. "Two purchasers were found to have no equipment or suitable facilities to raise the birds," Carstens explained. "They realized the permit requirements after their purchase and voluntarily forfeited the birds to WGFD." A third purchaser was identified later from the sales records, but his birds had perished in a too-hot vehicle before he made it back to his home in western Wyoming.
The couple each paid $450 fines in Laramie County Circuit Court on Nov. 2. The husband was cited for importing live wildlife without a permit, and the wife was cited as an accessory for her part in arranging the sales and delivery of live birds into Wyoming. They were also warned for failing to produce a certificate of veterinary inspection, and failing to provide a certificate of origin to their customers, as well as other record-keeping and game bird farm permitting requirements.
Anyone with information regarding any fish or wildlife violation may call the Stop Poaching Hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847). Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.
- WGFD -
JACKSON- Recently, Jackson resident Jeramy Hutchison was ordered to serve 20 days in jail for antler hunting during a closed season and violating a Game and Fish big game winter closure at the same time. Hutchison also lost his hunting and fishing privileges for three years and paid $1,110.00 in fines. Hutchison had been caught for similar violations on Forest Service lands adjacent to the National Elk Refuge in 2017.
At about 2:30 p.m. on March 31, 2020, South Jackson Game and Fish Warden Kyle Lash caught Hutchison violating the winter range closure and stashing elk antlers at the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA) and elk feedground, approximately five miles south of Jackson. The South Park WHMA and the gathering of antlers are both closed until May 1 to protect wintering big game.
Warden Lash made a second case of violating the antler season when Jason Heggenstaller of Star Valley Ranch, WY, was caught carrying antlers the morning of May 1, prior to the opening of the antler collection season at noon. It was clear Heggemstaller knew he was in violation of the noon opening time as his antlers were concealed and he tried to evade Warden Lash as he approached. Heggenstaller paid a $435.00 fine and lost his antlers for starting early.
On April 26, 2020, North Jackson Game Warden Jon Stephens also cited two individuals for antler hunting in the Gros Ventre drainage north of Jackson during the closed season. Ryan Blair, of Jackson, pleaded guilty to the offense, paid a $435 fine and lost his hunting and fishing privileges for one year. The second case is still pending.
The antler hunting regulation prohibits the gathering of shed antlers from January 1 through April 30 on all public lands in the designated closure (primarily west of the Continental Divide). The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission enacted the regulation after considerable public input in the fall of 2009.
According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission regulation, “collection” is defined as: to search for, locate, stockpile, or possess shed antlers and horns of big game animals on public land or attempt to search for, locate, stockpile, or possess shed antlers and horns of big game animals on public land.
In addition, many big game winter ranges on public lands in western Wyoming have further restrictions to either human presence or motor vehicles during the winter months. However, the shed antler regulation does apply to all other federal or public lands not covered under such winter range closures.
One man receives stiff punishment for his third wildlife conviction
LANDER- On March 4, 2020, Fremont County Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt the found Kelly J. Grove of Dubois, Wyoming guilty of two counts of accessory before or after the fact in taking big game without a license (elk and deer), and one count accessory before or after the fact in the take of big game from a vehicle. The prosecution dismissed two charges including accessory before or after the fact of shooting from a roadway and interference with a peace officer in a plea bargain reached with Mr. Grove.
Through the sentencing, Fremont County Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt sent a strong message to Grove to stop his poaching behavior and take responsibility for his actions. Judge Denhardt ordered him to pay a total of $6,365 in fines, assessments, and restitution, to spend one year in jail with 7 days credit for time already served, and three years supervised probation upon his release. Grove is required to serve the remaining 358 days in jail. The Judge also suspended Grove’s hunting and fishing privileges for 18 years in Wyoming and the 44 other states (https://www.naclec.org/wvc), and to forfeit his Remington 700 .300 Ultra Mag bolt action rifle.
On January 7, 2020 Spencer Carrico of Dubois, Wyoming pled guilty and was sentenced by Judge Denhardt for two violations of taking an elk and a deer without a license. The prosecution dismissed the counts of take big game from a vehicle and shooting from a roadway in a plea bargain reached with Mr. Carrico. Judge Denhardt ordered Mr. Carrico to pay $6,110 in fines, assessment, and restitution and suspended his hunting and fishing privileges for four years in Wyoming and 44 other states. Carrico was ordered to one year unsupervised probation and sentenced to 90 days in jail, which were suspended.
The case itself began on the evening of November 10, 2018 when Carrico and Grove were coming down the Union Pass Road west of Dubois in Grove’s truck. They spotted and shot a cow elk and Carrico, using Grove’s rifle. The men were unable to locate the elk after searching for it and were unsure if Carrico had mortally wounded the animal. The next day, both men, again in Grove’s truck, spotted a doe mule deer off the East Fork Road northeast of Dubois. Grove again handed his rifle to Carrico who shot the doe from the road and inside the truck on a dare from Grove. The men loaded the deer whole into the truck, drove down the road a distance, pulled over, and gutted the deer. They took the deer home and quartered the animal. Both men had been drinking when they shot the animals, and neither man had an elk or a deer license in 2018.<
Although Carrico was the primary defendant in the case, he received a less serious punishment from Judge Denhardt than Grove did as the accessory. This was Carrico’s first wildlife violation, he was cooperative with the officers conducting the investigation, admitted his role in the crime, and took responsibility for his actions. Grove did not take responsibility for his role, tampered with evidence, and is a repeat wildlife violator with two previous serious violations and several minor infractions.
Grove was placed on federal probation for the unlawful taking of threatened wildlife just months before he and Carrico committed these most recent crimes. In 2018, he and another man, Matthew Brooks, formerly of Dubois, were both found guilty for their roles in the illegal take of a grizzly bear north of Dubois in 2015. Grove was ordered to pay $7,000 in restitution and his hunting privileges were suspended worldwide for five years. Eight other charges against him in the grizzly bear case were dismissed, and his Remington 700 .300 Ultra Mag bolt action rifle was also confiscated in that case but returned 2 months before he handed it to Carrico to shoot the elk and deer.
Grove also pled guilty August 2007 to being an accessory to taking a bighorn ram without a license, waste/abandonment of a bighorn sheep, two counts each of waste of an elk and deer, and two counts each of false oath to obtain resident big game licenses.
“This man has a shocking history of violations. He’s been convicted of wanton waste of animals, including a bighorn sheep, he’s attempted to shoot the antlers off of live deer, he was on federal probation for game violations when he committed this crime and more. We appreciate the work of the Game and Fish in bringing us solid, well-investigated cases. The Fremont County Attorney’s office is pleased with the sentence that the circuit court handed down, in recognition of the intolerable history that preceded this case,” says Chief Deputy Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Ember Oakley, who represented the state in the current case and in the federal grizzly bear case.
Grove will next appear in front of U.S. District Court Judge Skavdahl for violating his federal probation by committing another wildlife crime while on probation from the illegal take of the grizzly bear.
LARAMIE- South Laramie Game Warden Bill Brinegar was recently recognized with the Outstanding Service Award from theNorth American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association (NAWEOA). The Outstanding Service Award is given for outstanding achievement or service in the field of wildlife law enforcement. NAWEOA holds an annual training conference that attracts up to 500 field officers from 60 different agencies throughout North America and provides recognition for members through its annual award program.
Cokeville Game Warden Neil Hymas racks up 40 years of service!
Cokeville - Cokeville Game Warden Neil Hymasreached a milestone this month, achieving his 40 year service award. Hymas, in above photo on the left, has worked tirelessly during his career to conserve wildlife and serve people. Among many of his accomplishments during his career was his assistance with the many mule deer research projects going on in the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Herd. Great job, Neil-GF 34!
Dubois Man Charged With Wildlife Violations for a Third Time
Pictured Above: Female grizzly bear poached by Grove and Brooks in 2015.
LANDER - Kelly J. Grove (34) of Dubois, Wyoming pled “not guilty” on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 before Judge Denhardt in the Circuit Court of Lander, Fremont County, 9thJudicial District. Grove pled not guilty to 5 counts including Accessory before or after the fact in taking game animals without a license, Accessory before or after the fact in taking game animals without a license, Accessory before or after the fact in using automobiles for hunting, Accessory before or after the fact of hunting from the highway, and Interference with a Peace Officer.
Grove was recently arrested on August 28, 2019 by Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputies on an arrest warrant issued out of Judge Denhardt’s court for the above wildlife violations. He remained in jail after his bond hearing on August 30 before Circuit Court Magistrate Phillips. He spent 6 days in the Fremont County Jail and was released after posting a $10,000 cash bond on September 3.
Grove was recently sentenced on July 2, 2018 on a previous wildlife case, along with a Casper man, Matthew Brooks, for the Unlawful Taking of Threatened Wildlife for his role in the death of a grizzly bear in September 2015. Grizzly bears are a federally protected species.
In this recent plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Grove pled guilty to the unlawful taking of a grizzly bear. In the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming in Casper, Wyoming, Chief United States District Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered Grove to pay $7,000 restitution for the bear and revoked his hunting privileges worldwide for 5 years. In addition, he was sentenced to 5 years unsupervised probation during which he was ordered not to commit another federal, state, tribal, or local crime. Grove was also ordered to pay a $25 special assessment.
As part of this global settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Fremont County Attorney’s Office, and Grove, 8 state wildlife charges were not filed on Grove.
The primary defendant in the grizzly case, Matthew J. Brooks, (now 32), formerly of Dubois, in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, pled guilty and was sentenced on July 23, 2018 in U.S. District Court in Casper. Judge Skavdahl ordered Brooks to pay $20,000 restitution for the bear and revoked his hunting privileges for 4 years. Brooks will also forfeit his firearm or firearm parts, complete 200 hours of community service, pay a special assessment of $25, and was put on 5 years of unsupervised probation during which time he is to have no violations of law.
As part of this global settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, Fremont County Prosecutor, and Brooks, 5 state wildlife charges were not filed on Brooks.
The grizzly bear case began with a report from the public received by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) of a grizzly bear found dead just below U.S. Forest Service Road 515 near Barber’s Point located between Wind River Lake on Togwotee Pass and Brooks Lake in the Shoshone National Forest northeast of Dubois, Wyoming. A WGFD Game Warden and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Special Agent investigated the bear and found it was an adult female bear shot dead while feeding on an elk carcass. The G&F had no previous dealings with this bear and it was not considered a problem bear.
USFWS and WGFD officers over the next two years interviewed suspects, witnesses and collected evidence including during a search warrant conducted on Grove’s residence in Dubois. As a result of this investigation, a total of 8 people were found to have committed state and federal wildlife violations. Some are still to be located and charged with their crimes.
The tale of how the bear was killed is as intriguing as any mystery novel. The bear had been observed by some local Dubois residents feeding on a hunter killed elk carcass for several days before Brooks and Grove killed the bear. The sow was somewhat of a novelty as the bear could be safely observed from a vehicle on the Forest Service Road located above the carcass. Grove and another man had actually harassed the bear a few days before, throwing rocks and agitating the bear to do some short bluff charges.
According to Brooks, on the night of September 22, 2015, he and Grove were together as Brooks had been hunting elk earlier in the afternoon in the Togwotee Pass area. The two had been drinking and Grove suggested to Brooks they locate the bear and kill it as it might pose a hazard to either themselves or other hunters that might hunt the Barber’s Point area nearby. The men drove to the area and at about 11:00 p.m. Brooks turned his vehicle across the forest service road, illuminated the bear on the carcass with his truck’s headlights, and shot it. They covered their tracks and quickly left the area. Brooks said they made a “pact” to not talk about killing the grizzly but word soon started to get out in the community and officers started to hear rumors of what had happened.
Brooks said several weeks later, after officers had conducted interviews of suspects and witnesses and completed search warrants, he and Grove and a third man, went up a rural local Dubois road during the night and buried his rifle, ammunition, and other accessories in bags in the ground so the gun could not be found by officers. Several months later, Brooks, fearing that Grove would recover the rifle or talk too much, retrieved the rifle and reburied it at another location that only he knew of. Brooks later dug up the gun a second time and took it to a friend who was a gunsmith and had the friend break the gun down and attempt to turn it into a different caliber rifle.
As details and evidence of the crime became overwhelming, Brooks decided to come clean and admit to shooting the bear and relate all the details of what occurred the night the bear was killed. As a result of his cooperation, the U.S. Attorney’s office and Fremont County Prosecutor’s office entered into a plea deal with Brooks and his attorney to resolve the case with a “global settlement” where the State of Wyoming would not pursue charges for state wildlife violations after Brooks answered to his federal charges. A similar plea agreement was worked out with Grove and his attorney.
This grizzly bear was just doing what a bear does and had posed no danger to humans nor had any history of negative interactions with humans. In this case, the humans were more dangerous than the bear. Brooks apologized to the Court and officers for shooting the bear and attributed his actions to a rough time in his life where he was making some poor decisions and also drinking too much. At sentencing he said he was already a different person than he was three years before when he shot the bear.
Grove also previously pled guilty 1 August 2007 to being an accessory to taking a bighorn ram without a license, waste / abandonment of a bighorn sheep, 2 counts each of waste of a big game animal, and 2 counts each of false oath to obtain resident big game licenses. The ram was killed illegally in November 2006 by Grove and a Tennessee man, Roger McKean. Ninth Circuit Court Judge Denhardt fined Grove $2,490, ordered him to pay $1,500 restitution for the ram and revoked his privileges for 3 years. In addition he was sentenced to 1 year probation, a 30 day suspended jail sentence, and ordered to forfeit a .243 bolt action rifle used in the crimes.
Bighorn sheep ram poached by Grove and McKean in 2006.