Trapper faces nearly $28,000 in fines, restitution; 195 pelts seized

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Natural resources law enforcement work can be a lot like putting together a puzzle. Match the correct pieces and you complete the puzzle. In natural resources law enforcement, piece together the evidence and you make a case. <BR><BR>Several northern Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers recently did that after receiving increased complaints of untagged traps and snares, trappers not tending traps, and snares and trap tampering in northeastern Minnesota.<BR><BR>Minnesota law requires traps or snares be marked or tagged with the number and state of the person’s driver’s license, or the person’s Minnesota identification card number, or the person’s name and mailing address. <BR><BR>No one may remove or tamper with a trap legally set to take furbearing wild animals without authorization of the trapper, a DNR agent, the owner or lessee of the land where the trap is located.<BR><BR>In December, conservation officers Kipp Duncan (Two Harbors) and Marty Stage (Babbitt) were working fur trappers and trap sites near Isabella.<BR><BR>With Stage in the woods checking a possible trap site, Duncan noticed a vehicle traveling in their direction. He believed it to be a trapper and wanted to do a license and trap site check when the vehicle turned down another road. While Duncan was turning his vehicle around to follow, he noticed fresh vehicle tracks and footprints leading into the woods. About 300 yards from the site, he found two undisturbed leghold traps surrounded by fresh snow. <BR><BR>The officers were about to check a possible trap site when they saw a vehicle driving slowly in their direction. The driver stopped and said he was checking his traps; he had three pine marten in the truck box. At the next intersection, the officers conducted a check of his trapping license and the pine marten which identified the person as Fred Paul Precht, 49, of Soudan. A pine marten was still in a conibear trap located in the box of his truck. Precht said he had no other leghold traps in the field.<BR><BR>Duncan asked Precht the last time he checked his traps in the area. He said he checked them two days before, so the officers knew he had not checked the traps daily as required by law. They all left the area. <BR><BR>On follow-up interviews, Duncan and Stage noticed Precht quickly changed the subject each time they asked questions about the traps. <BR><BR>The two officers talked about matching footprints at the trap site and the license check location. <BR><BR>Driving back to the trap site, the officers took photos of the footprints and noticed a unique star pattern that matched the tracks at the site of the license check. <BR><BR>The officers caught up with Precht later and again asked him how many traps he had in the field. This time he said six or eight. He admitted he wasn’t honest earlier because he was having trouble checking the traps daily since it’s about 45 miles from Soudan to Isabella. <BR><BR>Minnesota law requires any trap capable of capturing a protected animal and not capable of drowning the animal must be tended at least once each day, except for body-gripping or conibear-type traps.<BR><BR>Becoming increasingly suspicious of Precht’s responses and actions, Duncan took Precht’s trapping and driving license. <BR><BR>Duncan and Stage discussed the chain of events and the possibility of Precht having more fur pelts. Precht said he had several more fur pelts at home that belonged to him and several friends. He would not provide their names, but he agreed to let the officers follow him home and check the fur pelts. <BR><BR>When they arrived, Precht walked to the garage where several fisher pelts were hanging from the ceiling and several pine marten pelts were leaning up against a wall. A large freezer was also in the garage. <BR><BR>Because Precht would not allow the officers to look inside the freezer, they contacted an assistant St. Louis County attorney for a search warrant. Precht also said he had a freezer in the house and at his work place. <BR><BR>After obtaining the search warrant, the officers searched the garage, chest freezer in the garage, work place, and kitchen refrigerator and found 44 pine marten, 13 fisher, eight otter, 12 mink, 85 packages of beaver (some packages had more than one beaver), 31 muskrat and two raccoon. <BR><BR>An individual’s season limit of fisher and pine marten combined is five. The otter season limit is four. There is no limit on mink, beaver, muskrat or raccoons. All of Precht’s pelts were seized since the legal and illegal fur was commingled. The restitution value on the overlimit of 52 martin/fisher and four otter is $100 per animal or $5,600.<BR><BR>Under the state’s enhanced gross overlimits regulations, Precht was charged with seven counts of small game gross overlimits and faces a fine of up to $3,000 and/or one year in jail on each of the seven counts, and 90 days jail and/or $1,000 on an eighth count of failure to comply with game and fish laws. <BR><BR>If convicted on all charges, he faces over seven years in jail and fines and restitution totaling $27,600. <BR><BR>In addition to stiffer penalties, Precht could have his hunting/trapping and fishing licenses seized.<BR><BR>“This investigation is another example of conservation officers continuing to focus their serious enforcement efforts on those individuals who willfully and purposefully violate trapping laws,” said DNR Chief Conservation Officer Mike Hamm. <BR><BR>“We will continue to direct this focus in the future. It’s illegal activity like this that takes the pleasure away from those who enjoy trapping. It even takes away hunting opportunities for those who follow the law.”