SALT LAKE CITY -- The majority of at least 20 deer and elk killed by a suspected poaching ring were taken from the East Canyon area near Morgan, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Two Utahns, a man and a woman, remain behind bars after officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources found remains of the illegally harvested animals at three homes and a business along the Wasatch Front earlier this week.
Following a tip received through the state's poaching hotline, DWR officers arrested Jarod Birrell, of Magna, and Balenda Gutierrez, of Pleasant Grove, around midnight Sunday.
DWR spokesman Mark Hadley said the animals were taken from various locations throughout Utah, but most came from East Canyon and surrounding areas.
Birrell and Gutierrez are being held in Salt Lake County Jail. They both face potential third-degree felony charges for wanton destruction of protected wildlife, and for aiding and assisting in the poaching of 20 or more deer and elk.
"We're happy that our officers caught these individuals before they killed any more deer," said DWR Capt. Tony Wood. "Some of our officers worked 40 hours without sleeping or taking a break. The excellent police work they did saved a lot of deer."
Five days of investigative work led officers Sunday night to a business in Murray, where they waited until Birrell and Gutierrez arrived. When the suspects showed up, they had with them a trophy buck that officers believe had been killed just a few hours earlier.
The buck, taken on a general-season hunting unit near Hurricane in Southern Utah, had a "massive" five-by-four-point rack measuring nearly 30 inches wide, Wood said.
"A legal hunter would have been thrilled to take this deer next fall," he said. "The state's deer are a public resource, and poachers are stealing that resource from you."
A search of the suspects' homes in Magna and Pleasant Grove, another home in American Fork, and the Murray business where the arrests occurred turned up more sets of antlers, several of which would qualify as trophy kills, Hadley said.
He said most of the poached animals discovered so far were buck deer, although evidence shows the suspects were also targeting does and even a few elk.
While standard hunting rifles were the primary weapon used, some were killed using bow and arrow or muzzle-loader, he said.
The DWR suspects more people have been involved in the poaching.
"This case is bigger than these two individuals," Wood said.
While operations of such size are unusual in Utah, Hadley said they have become more common in recent years.
"These people know each other, and they're doing a lot of devastating damage," he said.
The DWR has 48 patrol officers statewide who work to eliminate poaching. Hadley said that's not nearly enough manpower to catch all poachers in Utah, and help from the public is needed to bring more cases against those who take animals illegally.
He said the case against Birrell and Gutierrez may never have happened if someone had not called in the initial tip that led to the investigation and subsequent arrests.
"These officers make a lot of cases on their own," Hadley said, "but to really curtail the poaching problem in the state of Utah, we need the public's help."
Anyone who suspects or knows of poaching activity in the state is encouraged to call the DWR's Turn-in-a-Poacher hotline at 800-662-3337 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.