A major wildlife poaching ring operating near the Maine/New Hampshire border was cracked by a sting on December 15, following a two-year covert investigation by Maine Fish and Wildlife. Ten search warrants were executed in western Maine and two in New Hampshire. As a result of the raid, 15 individuals were charged with numerous wildlife crimes, and officials seized firearms; deer, bear and wild turkey meat; and illegal drugs.
The only New Hampshire resident arrested in the raid was John Hart, age 43, of Conway. Hart has been charged with 14 counts of various wildlife offenses dealing with the illegal taking of deer, bear and wild turkey. Others in New Hampshire have been questioned as a result of the investigation, and more charges may be pending, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
"Maine Fish and Wildlife did an outstanding job investigating the illegal taking of wildlife in both states," said Col. Jeffrey Gray, Chief of Law Enforcement at N.H. Fish and Game. "As a result of this operation, a major wildlife poaching operation has been uncovered."
Hunting seasons are not currently open in New Hampshire or Maine for deer, bear or wild turkey. The alleged poachers were killing multiple deer, bear and other wildlife at night, out of season, on posted land, on roadways, out of cars and by driving deer in large, organized groups.
"It was clear that this group felt that the state's fish and wildlife laws did not apply to them, and they killed whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted," said Maj. Tom Santaguida of the Maine Warden Service. "Yet, they felt they were smart enough not to get caught because they didn't poach deer in certain areas at certain times."
In all, 86 officers participated in the operation, including wildlife officers from Maine and New Hampshire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents, Maine State Police troopers, the Maine State Police Tactical Team and the Oxford County Sheriff's Office. The scope of the effort made it one of the largest operations in the history of the Maine Warden Service.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources. Its Law Enforcement Division is responsible for the enforcement of all laws, rules and regulations pertaining to fish and wildlife.