Trail cameras are extra eyes for conservation police officers
Editors note… This article was posted Tuesday, January 5, 2016 5:30 pm by Bill Cochran, award winning outdoor writer for The Roanoke Times roanoke.com and was the result of a special field trip in November in the Roanoke area to coordinate story ideas on topics of interest to outdoor enthusiasts. TOR Editor David Coffman is planning additional filed trips with local media and VDGIF staff, volunteers and conservation organization partners as part of a special effort to celebrate the Agency’s 100th Anniversary by recognizing the people, places and activities that help us accomplish our Mission: Working for Wildlife. DC
Bill Cochran: Trail cameras are extra eyes for conservation police officers By Bill Cochran | Special to The Roanoke Times roanoke.com
Someone in a four-wheel drive was purposely tearing up the gravel road that runs through the Haven Wildlife Management area.
The remote, 7,000-plus acre Department of Game and Inland Fisheries property is located in the Fort Lewis Mountain area of Roanoke County.
Conservation Police Officer Joe Williams had a couple of options in dealing with the abuse. He could establish a personal surveillance that might tie him up for long hours, or he could set up motion-sensitive trail cameras to get pictures of the culprits if they returned, night or day.
He chose the latter option.
Digital cameras, used by growing numbers of hunters to check the quality and movements of deer and other wildlife, also are providing a new tool that gives conservation police officers — formally know as game wardens — extra eyes to do their job. That’s especially important with the ranks of CPO being 33 positions short of the full staffing level of 182.
“Employing alternative methods of surveillance can provide around-the-clock coverage without having to have an officer sit there and man the equipment,” said Col. Ron Henry, DGIF’s chief of law enforcement.
This is helpful in overseeing the department’s remote, 40-plus wildlife management areas that total more than 200,000 acres, Henry said.
“Plus, electronics don’t get tired, cold or hungry,” he said.
A camera set up along a remote wildlife management area road can capture images of vehicles, license numbers and even descriptions of the occupants of the vehicle.
The cameras are motion activated, have night vision, can take HD videos and have the capacity to send pictures directly to a computer or mobile phone. All this at a modest cost.
Officers are issued cameras, but some feel so strongly about them that they buy extra ones with their own money, Williams said.
The cameras are valuable when working cases that involve baiting, trespassing, illegal dumping, hunting out of season, and vandalism.
Often when violators are confronted, they deny any wrongdoing, but as soon as they are shown evidence produced by the cameras, “they fess up,” Williams said.
Surveillance cameras aren’t just being used on public land, they also are valuable in working trespassing cases on private property, Williams said.
“We will come out and help landowners place cameras,” he said.
Sometimes conservation police officers don’t have to head for the woods to get pictures of violators. The violators post their own pictures on Facebook deer galleries, where they vie for bragging rights. Other hunters, suspicious that the picture is the result of an illegal kill, will alert the DGIF Wildlife Crime Line: firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-237-5712.
A recent high-profile case involved two hunters killing trophy bucks on a game farm enclosure in West Virginia and illegally bringing them to Virginia, where they were checked as deer killed in Botetourt County. When pictures were posted online, conservation police were alerted that infractions had taken place.
One hunter was charged with falsifying public records, a felony, and improper handling a deer carcass, a misdemeanor.
What made the case serious was that the deer came from an out-of-state enclosure. Animals from these facilities are viewed by DGIF officials as a threat to spread deadly chronic wasting disease. Stringent measures are required before deer can be transported to Virginia.