Investigators and officers with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have made at least two arrests in a series of animal poaching cases because of a tip hotline. One of the cases involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In 2016 DWR Conservation Officer Eric Miller received tips through Utah's Help Stop Poaching Hotline that a wanted felon in northeastern Utah possessed firearms and was using them to illegally kill prized wildlife. These tips eventually led to the arrest of Kenny Swenson Jr. for poaching and more.
"He was just out doing drugs, he was out stealing stuff and in the process he killed a trophy bull elk in the Wasatch Limited Entry Unit over by Strawberry Reservoir,” Miller explained. “This guy was a felon and he shouldn't have firearms.”
Miller worked with other DWR investigators, the FBI, BIA, Uintah County Sheriff, Duchesne County Sheriff and the Roosevelt Police Department to track and detain Swenson.
"And other hunters starting to tell me, 'Hey this guys up here. He probably shouldn't be hunting,'" Miller said. “And so, the search was on! I was able to put some cameras out and was able to get license plates of him going up to the canyon. So I was able to prove that he was there.”
During the investigation, DWR officers served 14 search warrants to gain access to buildings, vehicles, phones, GPS units and Facebook profiles. At one location, more than 50 firearms were found, including a rifle used to kill the trophy elk. Miller says several of the firearms had been stolen.
In December Swenson pleaded guilty to two counts of Wanton Destruction of Protected Wildlife, both third-degree felonies. He was ordered to pay $16,000 to the Help Stop Poaching fund and sentenced to no more than five years in prison for each charge. He also lost hunting privileges for 28 years. Swenson is serving jail time in Oregon on drug charges.
"We're not just wildlife officers,” Miller said. “We actually deal with a lot of different items. A lot of times we are taking care of those drug-related activities and trying to get those drugs off the street.”
While investigating the Swenson case, Miller received tips through the hotline that another Uintah County man was killing wildlife without proper permits. In this case, William (Billy) August Thompson eventually admitted to killing a total of four bull elk, including two trophy bulls, four cow elk and two buck deer in Uintah and Duchesne Counties.
"So Billy basically, eventually, just admitted that he had an addiction to hunting and he was just killing whatever he could," Miller said.
In March Thompson pleaded guilty to all charges against him. He has been ordered to pay more than $16,000 to help fund the state’s Help Stop Poaching hotline and program.
"So, we're doing our best to keep it a fair game out there, so that people aren't getting animals stolen from them."
Miller says poaching reduces the elk and deer herd available to licensed hunters. The money raised through the sale of hunting permits and licensing is used by the DWR to manage state wildlife populations.