OGDEN -- Hunters accused of poaching in two separate incidents in the Top of Utah last month are likely facing felony charges because of the nature of the crimes.
Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources say that, on Sept. 10, a hunter from Willard shot three mountain goats near Ben Lomond when his permit allowed him to take only one.
Then, on Sept. 17, a father and son from West Valley City "recklessly" fired their rifles into a herd of about 60 pronghorn antelope on the Woodruff Wildlife Management Area in Rich County, killing three bucks and two does, according to the DWR. Their permits allowed them to take only one doe each, and no bucks.
The hunters' names haven't been released because charges have yet to be filed, but "charges are imminent," said Phil Douglass, a regional conservation outreach manager for the DWR.
"Both cases are pretty strong to begin with," Douglass said. "The fact that they were witnessed by other people who were concerned enough to come forward really helped a lot."
One of the suspects expressed amazement that other hunters had witnessed and reported his actions, Douglass said. The details given by witnesses were essential in determining how severe the charges filed should be, he said.
While there are provisions in state hunting laws allowing for smaller penalties for honest mistakes, the two cases being investigated meet the standard of "wanton and wasteful destruction of wildlife" that warrants felony charges, Douglass said.
All three suspects face potential third-degree felony charges, which carry a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence of as long as five years. They also face restitution fines of $6,000 per mountain goat and $400 per pronghorn.
They may also lose their hunting privileges in Utah and other states involved in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
Another benefit of eyewitnesses reporting the poaching activity quickly is that most of the animals could be recovered by wildlife officers and their meat donated to needy families, Douglass said. One of the goats fell off a cliff and couldn't be recovered, he said.
Anyone who sees a wildlife violation occur is encouraged to call Utah's Turn in a Poacher hot line at 800-662-3337. The hot line is staffed around the clock seven days a week.