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Officers bust poaching ring

Tip to poaching hotline lands two accused poachers in jail

A tip on the state's poaching hotline has allowed wildlife officers to break a major poaching ring in Utah.

Poaching bust
Some of the Utah DWR officers involved in a recent poaching case show the antlers they confiscated. The buck deer head the officer is displaying in the middle of the photo was allegedly taken by one of the poachers just hours before he was arrested.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Photo

"We're happy that our officers caught these individuals before they killed any more deer," says Captain Tony Wood with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Even though officers are happy with the arrest, they say there's still a lot of work to do to curtail poaching in Utah. With only 48 patrol officers in the state, Wood says the DWR doesn't have the resources needed to catch everyone on its own.

"We need the public's help," he says.

More charges possible

Jarod Birrell and Balenda Gutierrez are the latest Utahns to find themselves behind bars because of poaching violations. Birrell of Magna and Gutierrez of Pleasant Grove are being held in the Salt Lake County Jail. Each of them face potential third-degree felonies for poaching, and aiding and assisting in the poaching of at least 20 deer.

The animals were killed at various locations throughout Utah.

As the investigation continues, officers say additional charges might be filed. "And more suspects might be identified and arrested," Wood says. "This case is bigger than these two individuals."

Officers were waiting

A tip and five days of investigative work put DWR officers outside a business in Murray during the late night hours of Dec. 12, 2010. Other officers were waiting outside a home in Magna.

When Birrell and Gutierrez arrived at the business, the officers found a trophy buck deer that was allegedly poached just a few hours before. Birrell and Gutierrez were then arrested.

The deer was a trophy buck taken on a general-season hunting unit near Hurricane in southern Utah. Its antlers were massive, measuring nearly 30 inches wide. One antler beam had five points on it. The other beam had four points.

"A legal hunter would have been thrilled to take this deer next fall," Wood says.

UTIP hotline

The investigative work that resulted in officers arresting the pair started when someone called Utah's Turn-in-a-Poacher hotline.

The hotline number is 1-800-662-3337.

The DWR staffs the hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Wood says many people who know about poaching activity in Utah are sickened by it.

"People are becoming less tolerant of poaching," Wood says. "The state's deer are a public resource, and poachers are stealing that resource from you.

"If you have information about a poaching case in Utah, please call us."

Wood says he's extremely proud of the work his officers did with the case. "Some of our officers worked 40 hours without sleeping or taking a break," he says. "The excellent police work they did saved a lot of deer."

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