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Nose for wildlife work

Oola, a Dutch shepherd, sniffs at a camera as she demonstrates her skills with owner Paul Luepke, a Fish, Wildlife & Parks warden based in Columbus. Luepke and Oola are one of only two canine teams authorized by FWP.

A trained pooch helped sniff out evidence that helped convict three Park County men of illegally hunting and wasting three bull bison in the Gardiner area on Feb. 28, according to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks news release.

Jesse Darr, Ryley Heidt, and Peyton Simmons pleaded guilty to unlawful possession, waste and hunting during a closed season. They were sentenced Tuesday in Justice Court.

The dead bison were discovered March 2 by agency personnel in Beattie Gulch, an area of Forest Service land near the northern border of Yellowstone National Park. All three bison had their heads removed, and all usable meat was left to waste. The bison skulls had been skinned and hidden nearby.

The Forest Service, National Park Service and FWP game wardens collaborated to solve the case, and FWP canine Kikka was integral in the discovery of evidence linking the men responsible to the case.

The FWP enforcement division is using trained canines in limited applications. FWP has only two canine teams as part of a statewide trial.

Enforcement Chief Dave Loewen said using canines to detect critical evidence at wildlife crime scenes is a useful tool that can reduce staff time and increase the chances of locating evidence.

“It is doubtful the evidence in this case would have been detected and located without the canine,” Loewen said.

The Park County judge ordered each of the men to pay $2,605 in fines and restitution with an 18-month suspended jail sentence. The men also lost their fishing, hunting and trapping privileges for 54 months with the added restriction of not being able to apply for permits for an additional five years after their privileges are reinstated. Remedial hunter education was also ordered.

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