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Fourth suspect arrested in moose poaching case

Dec 18, 2012 - From staff reports

A fourth and final suspect has been arrested in connection with the poaching of four moose that were found dead this October on private land within the Wind River Indian Reservation boundary north of Hudson.

Phillip "P.J." Warren, 31, of Arapahoe, was arrested Dec. 11 for wanton destruction of game, wasting game and taking wildlife without a license at about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday at Riverton City Hall.

The other three suspects were arrested this week: Phillip "Rocky" Hurtado, 73, of Arapahoe; Sammy Edlund, 29, of Gillette; and Danielle Najera, 28, of Gillette. They were issued the same misdemeanor charges as Warren.

"It's good news," Riverton game warden Brad Gibb said Wednesday, commending the four for turning themselves in. "That's the right thing to do."

Fremont County Court staff said Hurtado made his initial appearance in front of a judge Monday after being arrested this weekend. He reportedly plead not guilty; a jury trial is set for April.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials said Najera was arrested Monday, and Edlund -- Najera's boyfriend -- turned himself in soon afterward. Edlund appeared Wednesday morning by video in Riverton Circuit Court, and Najera is expected to appear sometime this week.

"I'm glad it came together," Gibb said. "The good thing is people care. Somebody reported this (and) we were able to put it together."

According to previous reports, the poaching investigation started with an anonymous tip from the public. Gibb said the reporting party said they had heard activity in the area that they thought was suspicious.

Game warden Chris Daubin said he responded to the report Oct. 15 and found the carcasses of two male and two female moose lying near one another along the Popo Agie River northeast of Hudson within the reservation boundary but on private land. Gibb said the animals likely had been shot the day before.

"They were already basically decomposing by the time we got there," Gibb said. "It was a total loss."

Lander area game warden Brad Hovinga said moose are "one of the most highly valued species in Wyoming." He added that penalties could range as high as one year in jail and a $10,000 fine for each poached moose. Wyoming allows moose hunting, but Schell said the animals near Hudson were slain without licenses and in an area closed to moose hunting. She said the animals had recently begun to populate an area that had not seen moose for 10 to 15 years. The four moose had lived in the area at least since the spring of 2012, she said, and probably arrived in the spring of 2011.

The moose lived along the Popo Agie and had been seen on both sides of Hudson, Schell said. Moose typically live along waterways and have a home range of five to 10 square miles, she said.

The WGFD, Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Fish and Game, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation collaborated for the investigation, which took place during the busiest week of the hunting season when many poaching calls were being reported.

Poaching reports may be made to the "STOP POACHING" Hotline: (877) WGFD-TIP or (307) 777-4330 for out-of-state "STOP POACHING" calls only. Violations may also be reported at regional offices or online at gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/enforcement/stoppoaching/submitTip.aspx.