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Pennsylvania Game Commission: Plains Man Charged With Poaching; York County and Maryland Residents Plead Guilty

October 24, 2006

DALLAS, Pa., Oct. 24 /PRNewswire/ — Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Peter Sussenbach, of MonroeCounty, recently filed charges against a LuzerneCounty man for his alleged involvement in the unlawful killing of a white-tailed deer. Michael Ostopik, 29, of Plains, was charged with one count each of unlawful taking or possession of a white-tailed deer and using bait as an enticement to attract wildlife. If found guilty of both counts, Ostopik faces up to $1,100 in fines and the loss of his hunting and trapping privileges for several years.

On Oct. 7, WCO Sussenbach received information from a concerned hunter wanting to report the suspicious activity he encountered the day before while archery hunting on the RAM Hunting Club property in TobyhannaTownship, MonroeCounty. The hunter said he became concerned after hearing a rifle shot in the area he was hunting. About 15 minutes later, he saw an individual on an all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) coming from the direction of the shot with a rifle slung over his shoulder. About 10 minutes later, the same individual returned on the ATV, but this time had an arrow strapped to the ATV. When confronted, the driver claimed to have shot at a coyote. Not believing the story, the witness called the Game Commission to report the incident.

Realizing the difficulty in finding the exact location of where the alleged incident occurred, Sussenbach decided to request help from fellow WCO Linda Swank, and her canine partner Onyx, stationed in LancasterCounty. Onyx, a female black Labrador retriever was donated to the Game Commission in 2002, to be used specifically for wildlife law enforcement purposes.

On Oct 8, WCOs Sussenbach and Swank, along with Onyx, traveled to the area where the incident occurred. Onyx immediately identified a trail and in short order, led WCOs Sussenbach and Swank directly to the entrails of a freshly killed deer. Just a short distance away, the officers located a tree stand and pile of corn. WCO Swank had Onyx search the area near the stand. When Onyx laid down about 12 feet from the stand, the two officers went over to her, and there, between her front paws, found a spent .243 caliber rifle cartridge. Both officers knew they had all the evidence needed to put the case together. Later that week, WCO Sussenbach, along with Lackawanna County WCO Mark Rutkowski, confronted Ostopik with the evidence in hand and he confessed to shooting a spike buck with one shot from his rifle from the tree stand.

“This dog is amazing,” WCO Sussenbach said. “Onyx found all the evidence for us. It probably would have taken me the better part of the day just to find the tree stand let alone the bullet casing, if at all. Without her, finding all the necessary evidence for this case would have been very time consuming, if we were able to find the evidence at all.”

Currently, the Game Commission has two canine units. WCO Linda Swank has been Onyx’s handler and trainer since the program began in 2001. WCO Darin Clark, of ErieCounty, and Sarge, a yellow Labrador, comprise the second Game Commission canine unit.

“The teams began training at about five months of age with the handlers they were assigned to at the Harrisburg training areas,” WCO Swank said. “The canines are not trained for aggression and apprehension work, but rather they are trained specifically for tracking, evidence recovery and detection of wildlife similar to narcotics and explosive detection canines. We — the canine units — are utilized in enforcement operations such as this one, to help find any evidence at the wildlife crime scene.”

In October of 2000, the Board of Game Commissioners approved a pilot project for two canine units to assist with enforcing the Game and Wildlife Code and for Game Commission public relations activities.

In 2002, the Game Commission’s two conservation law enforcement canine teams were among the first canine teams ever to attend and certify at the North American Police Work Dog Association’s (NAPWDA) National Workshop in Dayton, Ohio.

“Both canines have been instrumental in solving many cases over the years,” said Rich Palmer, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection acting director. “Without the evidence collection capabilities provided by the canine teams many of these cases would have been far more difficult and costly, if not impossible, to solve.

“Although the Board of Game Commissioners approved expansion of the canine program, financial limitations have prevented us from developing and placing additional canine units in other regions to assist with wildlife protection efforts.”

Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen’s clubs.

The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state’s share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.

YORKCOUNTY AND MARYLAND RESIDENTS PLEAD GUILTY

READING, Pa. — Pennsylvania Game Commission officials announced that a York County resident and two residents of Maryland pled guilty to a variety of criminal wildlife charges that occurred on and prior to Nov. 19.

The citations had been filed by Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Guy Hansen before District Justice Nancy Edie, Brogue.

On Oct. 6, James Lee Fewster Sr., of Baltimore, Maryland, pled guilty to one count of false and fraudulent statements, one count of loaded firearms on a moving vehicle and seven counts of possession of illegal deer. He was fined $5,300.

On Oct. 2, Robert O’Brian Fewster, Fawn Grove, YorkCounty, pled guilty to one count of loaded firearms on a moving vehicle and seven counts of possession of illegal deer. He was fined $5,100.

On Oct. 11, Ronald Charles Wade, of Halethorpe, Maryland, pled guilty to one count of false and fraudulent statements, one count of loaded firearms on a moving vehicle and one count of possession of illegal deer. His fines totaled $900.

Officers seized evidence that was sent to the University of Maine for DNA analysis to determine the minimum number of deer that were involved. In addition to their fines, the defendants were assessed a total of $450 to cover the costs of DNA testing and analysis.

WCO Hansen, along with Deputy WCOs Jeffrey Gohn and Jeff Orwig, were patrolling the Delta area on Nov. 19, nine days prior to the opening day of the 2005-06 rifle deer season. After hearing shots and the sounds of an ATV, Gohn and Orwig determined the location of the shots. Along with Hansen, all three officers responded to a Delta area residence. Upon arrival, the officers noticed three individuals wearing hunting attire. There also were three loaded firearms on the ATV.

Two of the three violators possessed current Maryland hunting licenses, but none possessed a Pennsylvania hunting license.

The officers found nine baited tree stands in the woods directly behind the house in question and parts of several freshly killed deer. Other assisting officers included Lancaster County WCO Linda Swank and her tracking dog, Onyx, and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Waterways Conservation Officer Patrick Ferko.

“Once WCO Swank arrived, Onyx picked up the scent and found the deer in five minutes,” Hansen said. He added that this was not the first time that WCO Swank and Onyx were able to provide assistance in investigations.

“About four years ago, on Halloween, we found an individual in full camo come out of the woods with no archery equipment,” WCO Hansen said. “It took WCO Swank and Onyx literally 30 seconds to find the person’s hidden bow and arrows. Upon interviewing the individual the next day, it was determined that he was on revocation. Charges were filed and the defendant was found guilty in district court.

“Also, just two years ago, I arrived on the scene of a road hunting incident about one minute after it happened. While it was too late to witness the actual crime, Onyx was able to find a spent cartridge that was matched by State Police lab to the suspect’s firearm. Multiple charges were filed. I would have never found the case and would have never been able to file any charges had it not been for WCO Swank and Onyx.”

Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations and sportsmen’s clubs.

The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales revenues; the state’s share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals derived from State Game Lands.

Pennsylvania Game Commission

CONTACT: Jerry Feaser, Pennsylvania Game Commission, +1-717-705-6541,PGCNews@state.pa.us

Web Site: http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/




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