Hunting News

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Getting out in Alaska: Hunting caribou in the Aleutians

Commentary by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

12/4/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- More than a year ago, my father mailed me one of his rifles; one I didn't even know how to use.

I told him I was very interested in learning to hunt, if I could only find the opportunity.
I'd never really had the chance to hunt before, but I wanted to do so in the beautiful and potentially dangerous terrain that is Alaska.

Several weeks ago, Dan Evans, an old friend, offered me the chance to go hunting with him on Adak.

I hadn't even heard of the place; I had to attend the trip meetings and learn what was to be expected and what to bring.

I had to get a non-touch-screen GPS I'd never used before, 550 cord to tie gear to my body to keep things from getting lost while hiking, and more.

We also had to bring enough food for the trip because we'd only have what we brought.

Everything had to be in waterproof bags because a drought on Adak is said to consist of maybe two days without any rain.

As we prepared, super Typhoon Nuri hit in the Pacific.

It pushed much of the snow we were expecting down south, which would not only affect the weather, but would change where the caribou might be.
It also put into doubt whether our flight would even leave on time - or at all. Many things were still undetermined.

I questioned whether a trip which made survival situations likely was worth voluntarily undertaking.

As I learned about Adak Island, a relatively small place that used to have an active military base, but now is only occupied by perhaps a few hundred people, I became more nervous about the conditions of this trip.

But I was also looking forward to spending the time with the guys, devoting time to God, and getting the meat.

I already planned to give away most of it; my wife and I would enjoy it, but I have three small children who can be very picky eaters. Others needed the meat more.

As planned, we arrived with more than a dozen men.

Half of them immediately sorted their gear and took off hiking, expecting to spend a few days camping while hunting caribou.

The rest of us went to see if we had a cabin. As it turned out, we did; we had electricity, at least some hot water, and two trucks.

After putting our gear away and getting most of a night's sleep, we planned and took off well before the sun came up. We drove south to where a couple of our experienced guys knew good caribou hunting was.

We hiked out around a lake and I quickly discovered I was carrying too much weight.

Once we cached some and marked that spot on the GPS, we spotted a few caribou on the mountain across from the lake.

My friend Dan and I hiked in that direction.

Evans is a very experienced hiker and hunter, having taken more than 60 caribou in his time in Alaska.

Thankfully, he was more interested in teaching me how to do it than doing it himself.

He showed me how to stay downwind so our scent didn't reach the animals.

He found the best place to peek over some rocks and spot them without being seen and showed me where to place my rifle and where to aim.

I had rounds in my 30.06 rifle, but we'd traveled with empty chambers, so now we chambered the cartridges and put in earplugs.

In my anxiety, my first shot missed completely.

Some caribou got up and started to leave, but others were still looking around curiously.

I chambered another round and fired again. Dan informed me I had 'spined' the animal and to take a moment to aim my next shot; I did, and the caribou dropped.

Dan knew that taking a life, even an animal life, bothered some people. He was watching me to gauge my reaction, but he need not have worried.

I've been around human death before, and was excited my kill meant food for people, but held my feelings in check because I knew we still had a lot of work to do.

We moved in to start field dressing. I quickly noticed something - my caribou's tail was still twitching. I'd used three bullets, hit it twice, and it was still alive.

Dan gave me two options - to shoot the animal at close range, or slit its throat.

I chose the latter. Dan felt around the neck and showed me where to stab it, and to cut outward. I felt a pang of guilt when the animal twitched once as the blade sank in.

I was then shown how to "un-zip" the skin and pull it off to get the meat.

We stretched out tarps on the snow and kept everything downwind of our harvest so hair wouldn't get on the meat.

I ended up cutting a chunk of my finger off during the process and spent the next few hours bleeding.

We left the antlers and hide, as the meat was heavy enough.

It took well into the evening to get back to the cabin; we wouldn't even have made it with all the gear if some kind people with an all-terrain vehicle hadn't stopped by to help out.

I was physically exhausted at that point and struggled to stay on my feet. They took our gear and meat and basically walked us back to the truck.

I thank God for their help.

I also determined I would never hike in unfamiliar terrain at night again.

By the end of the week, nearly everyone had gotten at least one caribou, and some ducks.

We came back with 15 caribou worth of meat.

It took a full day in Eagle River to process the meat with a couple rented grinders and several people helping.

We spread it around; a lot of families and single people got food.

Ultimately, the trip helped me feel better about taking advantage of the unique opportunities Alaska has to offer.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spice it Up

Everyone gets stuck in a rut every once in a while; however, this can cause a rift in a marriage and the end result can be devastating. Rethink how day-to-day interaction with a spouse is so that even daily interactions become enjoyable and strengthen a bond with each other.

Learn to prioritize a relationship. This means that work, school and other things and people are second to the marriage. This is important. This creates a romantic relationship that no other has access or precedence to.

Along with treating the marriage as a priority, make time for it as well. Even if it means taking a walk together at the end of the day or having coffee with each other in the morning. Taking a few minutes here and there with a busy schedule helps both spouses to reconnect and catch up with each other. It’s important to take longer durations of time together, but do so where possible—even if it’s a quick kiss while passing each other in the hallway.

Communication is one way to learn about a person; however, so too are life’s experiences or fun activities that also teach spouses about each other. For example, engaging in trust exercises can strengthen relationships by teaching each spouse to depend on the other. Taking part in an art class can reveal that a spouse is artistic, patient or some other hidden quality. How we react to stimuli tells a lot about ourselves that our spouses may never have known.

Instead of allowing problems to causes spouses to split apart, allow the problem to create a stronger bond. Couples that support and rely on each other, grow together. In addition, romance may not come in the form of flowers or chocolates all the time. Romance may come by subtle things that let each spouse know that the other is thinking about the other and thinks they are special. For instance, hide a note saying “I love you” in the spouse’s shoe. Swing by to visit the spouse with coffee. Do something extra special for them. Take a chore off the spouse’s “to do” list. Take the spouse off for a trip to a Oklahoma log cabin. Romance comes in many forms. Explore them.

Take time with the spouse and treat them well. Preserve the spouse like a fine gem—appreciate their brilliance, shine their qualities and treasure them for life.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Owners of Safari Company Indicted for Illegal Rhino Hunts

The owners of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris were charged with conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts in South Africa in order to defraud American hunters, money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns, announced Sam Hirsch Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division; George L. Beck, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama; and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  The indictment was unsealed today in Montgomery, Alabama following the federal indictment.

The indictment charges Dawie Groenewald,  46, and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, 44, both South African nationals, and their company Valinor Trading CC (d/b/a Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris) with conspiracy, Lacey Act violations, mail fraud, money laundering and structuring bank deposits to avoid reporting requirements.   The Lacey Act, the nation’s oldest criminal statute addressing illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking, makes it a crime to sell animal hunts conducted in violation of state, federal, tribal and foreign law.

According to the 18-count indictment, from 2005 to 2010, the Groenewald brothers traveled throughout the United States to attend hunting conventions and gun shows where they sold outfitting services and accommodations to American hunters to be conducted at their ranch in Mussina, South Africa.  During the time period covered by the indictment, Janneman Groenewald lived in Autauga County, Alabama, where Out of Africa maintained bank accounts and is accused of money laundering and structuring deposits to avoid federal reporting requirements.  Hunters paid between $3,500 and $15,000 for the illegal rhino hunts.

The defendants are charged with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading American hunters.  The hunters were told the lie that a particular rhino had to be killed because it was a “problem rhino.”  Therefore, while no trophy could be legally exported, the hunters could nonetheless shoot the rhino, pose for a picture with the dead animal, and make record book entries, all at a reduced price.  Meanwhile, the defendants are alleged to have failed to obtain necessary permits required by South Africa and cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives.

The indictment alleges that the defendants then sold the rhino horn on the black market.  Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court, including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun.  The American hunters have not been charged.

“We are literally fighting for the survival of a species today.  In that fight, we will do all we can to prosecute those who traffic in rhino horns and sell rhino hunts to Americans in violation of foreign law,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the U.S. will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place.”

“These defendants tricked, lied and defrauded American citizens in order to profit from these illegal rhinoceros hunts,” stated U.S. Attorney Beck.  “Not only did they break South African laws, but they laundered their ill-gotten gains through our banks here in Alabama. We will not allow United States’ citizens to be used as a tool to destroy a species that is virtually harmless to people or other animals.”   

“The fact that defendants used American hunters to execute this scheme is appalling - but not as appalling as the brutal tactics they employed to kill eleven critically endangered wild rhinos,” said FWS Director Ashe. “South Africa has worked extraordinarily hard to protect its wild rhino population, using trophy hunts as a key management tool. The illegal ‘hunts’ perpetrated by these criminals undermine that work and the reputation of responsible hunters everywhere.”

Rhinoceros are an herbivore species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth.   Adult rhinoceros have no known natural predators.  All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States and international law.  Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by over 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.  Nevertheless, the demand for rhinoceros horn and black market prices have skyrocketed in recent years due to the value that some cultures have placed on ornamental carvings, good luck charms or alleged medicinal purposes, leading to a decimation of the global rhinoceros population.  Like hair or finger nails, rhino horn is actually composed of keratin and has no proven medical efficacy.  As a result, rhino populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1970.  South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation in poaching of live animals, rising from 13 in 2007 to a record 1004 in 2013.  Illegally killed rhinos like the ones charged in this prosecution are not included in the published statistics of poached animals.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.   

The investigation of Out of Africa is part of Operation Crash (named for the term “crash” which describes a herd of rhinoceros), an ongoing nation-wide effort to detect, deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns led by the Special Investigations Unit of the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice.  Thus far there have been 26 arrests and 18 convictions with prison terms as high as 70 months. (See attached Crash Fact Sheet).  Throughout the course of the investigation on the current charges, U.S. authorities received substantial cooperation from South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority and a specialized endangered species unit within the organized crime unit of the South African Police Service.  That unit is known as the Hawks.  Additional assistance has been provided in this case by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in Montgomery, Alabama and the Autauga County, Alabama Sheriff’s Office.  The Out of Africa case is being prosecuted in the Middle District of Alabama by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon K. Essig and by Richard A. Udell, Senior Litigation Counsel with the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.  The Out of Africa investigation is continuing.    

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Operation Silent Wilderness: Preserving and Protecting the Environment and Native American Culture

October 10, 2014

Sellers of Eagle, Hawk, and Anhinga Feathers Sentenced For Violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act

This week in Phoenix, Arizona, Leo Begay, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation from Tuba City, Arizona, became the last defendant to be sentenced after a nationwide investigation – Operation Silent Wilderness – by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into the illegal killing and commercialization of protected eagles and other migratory birds.

Begay was sentenced to four months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release and a fine of $1,000, having earlier pleaded guilty to charges that he sold six feather fans comprised of bald and golden eagles, and federally-protected hawks.   The investigation into the Begay case and several others was conducted jointly with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The investigation was initiated after the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife received a complaint concerning a Navajo tribal member in Arizona who was selling eagle and other migratory bird feathers.  Seven residential search warrants and multiple interviews related to the investigation were conducted, uncovering an illicit trade in migratory bird feathers via the Internet using online services such as MySpace and Yahoo! Mail.

Federal and Tribal law enforcement leaders commented on the operation.

Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division commented:

The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing wildlife laws that forbid the commercialization and exploitation for profit of eagle feathers and other bird parts, a valuable cultural and environmental resource to all Americans, and not least of all American Indians. The Department of Justice is committed to striking an appropriate balance in enforcing our nation’s wildlife laws that also respects the cultural and religious practices of federally recognized Indian tribes.

Ed Grace, Deputy Assistant Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, stated:

Operation Silent Wilderness has been a model of cooperation between the Service and the Navajo Nation’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The results send a strong message to all Americans that we will pursue traders in illegal wildlife products with the full force of the law.  Social networking sites are no safe haven for wildlife traffickers to conduct illegal business.

Gloria M. Tom, Director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife commented:

The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address illegal trafficking of eagle feathers and other bird parts on the Navajo Nation because this activity is impacting the long term viability and sustainability of the golden eagle and other migratory bird populations on our reservation.  The Department’s overall mission is to conserve and protect our wildlife now and in the future and we take this mission very seriously.  We are obligated to protect these sacred birds for our people who use eagles and other migratory birds and their parts legally for religious and ceremonial purposes.  The individuals who are participating in this illegal activity are not concerned with protecting Native American religious rights; they are only concerned with the personal financial benefit they receive from the illegal activity.  Our partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deter wildlife crimes on the Navajo Nation has been very beneficial to the Navajo Nation with cases like these being successfully prosecuted.  We look forward to continuing this partnership because there is a tremendous amount of illegal activity continuing to occur and the partnership needs to include more efforts to catch the individuals who are killing the birds and making their parts available on the black market.

John Leonardo, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona stated:

The preservation of protected bird species is of significant importance to all Arizonans and all Americans, and this nationwide collaborative investigation demonstrates our shared commitment to this preservation goal as well as to the protection of American Indian cultural practices.

In 2012, the Department of Justice announced a policy addressing the ability of members of federally recognized Indian tribes to possess or use eagle feathers, an issue of great cultural significance to many tribes and their members. Attorney General Eric Holder signed the new policy after extensive department consultation with tribal leaders and tribal groups. The policy covers all federally protected birds, bird feathers and bird parts.

Enrolled members of federally recognized American Indian tribes may possess eagle and other migratory bird feathers and parts for religious and ceremonial purposes, but federal law strictly prohibits the sale of bald and golden eagles, their feathers, or their parts by any person.  The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) prohibits the taking, possession, sale, barter, purchase and transport of bald and golden eagles.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) implements Conventions between the United States and four countries (Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia) for the protection of more than 1,000 migratory bird species.  One such bird, the anhinga, is found in the Florida Everglades as well as in southern swamps and shallow waters.  The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, the sale of wildlife knowing that the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of any federal wildlife-related regulation or law. 

These important laws are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and help ensure that eagle and other bird populations remain healthy and sustainable.

Previous prosecutions resulting from Operation Silent Wilderness:

On Aug. 14, 2014, Charley Allen, a Goshute tribal member of Grantsville, Utah was sentenced to 12 months  in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release for selling and offering to sell migratory bird parts including anhinga and hawk feathers in violation of the MBTA.  Allen admitted by his plea on Mar. 20, 2014 in federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, that he sold four sets of twelve anhinga feathers for $400 per set to two people in Arizona, one of whom was an undercover officer.  Allen also admitted that he offered to sell seven sets of red-tailed, red-shouldered and ferruginous hawk feathers.  Allen communicated via MySpace with an individual in Florida who supplied Allen on multiple occasions with 44 sets of anhinga tail feathers. 

Steven Patrick Garcia, Jr. of San Jose, Calif., similarly communicated with an individual in California via MySpace and sold the individual twelve hawk feathers for $200.  Garcia was sentenced on June 6, 2013 in federal court in Billings, Mont., to 24 months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release for selling and offering to sell migratory bird parts in violation of the MBTA and the Lacey Act.

Alexander Robert Somers, a Yakama tribal member of White Swan, Wash., was sentenced on Aug. 26, 2013 in federal court in Phoenix, Ariz., to three months in prison, one year supervised release with a condition of three months home confinement, and $10,000 restitution for selling golden eagle parts in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  $5,000 of the restitution is to be paid to the Yakama Nation’s Wildlife, Range & Vegetation Resources Management Program.  The remaining $5,000 is to be paid to the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Operation Game Thief” a program which awards cash rewards to people who provide information which leads to the arrest or citation of any person who unlawfully poaches wildlife on the Navajo Nation.

The golden eagle feathers sold by Somers were purchased by Darwin James of Kayenta, Ariz. who subsequently sold the feathers to an undercover law enforcement officer.  James was sentenced on Oct. 21, 2013 in federal court in Phoenix to five years probation and $6,750 restitution for selling migratory bird parts in violation of the MBTA.  James pleaded guilty to the charge on May 6, 2013.  James admitted by his plea that on Feb. 15, 2009, he sold 12 golden eagle tail feathers and twelve red-tailed hawk tail feathers for a total of $650 after exchanging e-mails with a covert law enforcement officer.  According to court documents, James is a Native American residing on the Navajo Nation reservation.   

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, performed more than eight thousand forensic identifications during the course of this investigation and subsequent prosecution of the cases and concluded that a minimum number of nearly 600 individual birds were involved.  The Forensics Laboratory is the only full service crime lab in the world dedicated to crimes against wildlife.  Scientists at the lab identify the species of pieces, parts or products of an animal or bird seized as evidence, determine the cause-of-death, and provide expert testimony in court. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository, which collects eagles that die naturally, by accident or other means, to supply enrolled members of federally recognized American Indian tribes with eagle parts for religious use.

The cases which resulted from this nationwide investigation were prosecuted by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Alabama, District of Alaska, District of Arizona, Southern District of Florida, Eastern and Western Districts of Louisiana, District of Montana, District of New Mexico, and the District of Utah.