The front page story detailing my alleged crimes against the Wyoming Game Fish Department calls for a response.
On the day of the so-called trial I was anxious to see if the officiating judge would be someone I knew or knew of. I was disappointed to learn that the unknown judge in this case would be officiating from a large electronic flat-screen, his image so far recessed into a scene of a courtroom (somewhere) as to be unrecognizable (which, I suppose, is the point).
On the rare occasion when I was allowed to respond to the Electronic Judge it was quite odd to respond to a disjointed voice emanating from behind me while I was looking off into space in front of me. Like most folks I am accustomed to responding to adversaries, which this judge clearly was, face to face.
The deputy prosecuting attorney then presented the usual pre-orchestrated question-and-answer exchange between himself and the game warden involved: Did he know me; could he identify me in the room; did he have pertinent photographs? A photo of a boot print was shown, clearly not mine, ignoring the fact that this 525-acre wildlife habitat management area is surrounded by private property that provides convenient illegal access to the closed area every spring. (Not to mention illegal hunting in the fall).
Through the entire proceedings I was given a single opportunity to respond to the warden. When I posed a further question to him, the judge intervened and announced that I had no further right to question this witness.
I went into this courtroom with an abundance of physical evidence to support my view of events (maps, letters, documents from the Game and Fish detailing my responsibilities on that property, etc.) I had not been informed that all evidence was to be displayed electronically. Since there was no physical flesh-and-blood judge present to address face to face, my supporting materials were useless.
Some days after the encounter with the warden I was handed two citations.
Citation # 1: Violating human presence closure on WHMA (Wildlife Habitat Management Area). This surely baffled me. How could I be charged with illegal entry into the area while at the same time being paid by the Game and Fish Department to be there? I had already stated to the judge that I did not actually feed the elk that day because there was ample hay on the grounds from the previous day.
The judge then reasoned that if I didn’t need to feed, then what was I doing there? Well now, how would I know of the conditions on the ground unless I was there? Not to mention horses in a pen that needed daily attention. The judge obviously had no real concept of what this job requires. His simple concept was: Perform the work. Don’t step on the ground unnecessarily. Leave immediately.
How about times, due to conditions, when I couldn’t leave if I wanted to? How about those contractors who live on the feedgrounds where they are working? All totally ridiculous and non-sensible.
Citation # 2: Collection/stockpile antlers during closed season. One might envision mounds of antlers. We are referring here to two small antlers that were found on adjoining private property. I have been responsible for that property since the present owners purchased it in 1972, 50 years ago. Since the access road to this property and seasonal home was still blocked with snowdrifts – too much snow to drive on and not enough to use a snowmobile – it seemed reasonable to me to actually walk on my own two feet. I will mention also – likely unknown to current Game and Fish personnel – that the family who owns the private 80 acres adjoining the Game and Fish property gifted the entire 525 acres of the current WHMA to the Department in 1977. When this magnanimous transaction was brokered, the family retained a quarter-mile-wide right of way, which encompasses the entire western side of the feedground property, extending north to south. This represents the original access to their homesite. It is also interesting to note that the family retained private hunting rights on the entire 535 acres of the WHMA.
In the judge’s opinion I had no legitimate reason to access that private land from G&F property, coming or going. Accordingly, when I carried two small antlers from that private land onto G&F land, these antlers magically came under G&F jurisdiction. These are issues that could have been brought up in a real court proceeding.
I have dedicated over half of my 80 years to the operation of that elk feeding operation. I have spent unaccounted (and unpaid) hours during the off season performing work to make the operations run efficiently. I have spared no effort. The original pay was $18.00 per day – and I provide the horses (the horses earned $1.00 per day). I have suffered broken bones, loss of part of a finger, frozen fingers and toes, several concussions. I have done this out of dedication to the job, but more so in dedication to the elk. If these elk herds must be artificially fed – and in this day and age, in most cases they must – then I have always wanted it to be done efficiently and properly.
To me, this situation smells of a case of citations for illegal activity desperately looking for a place to be applied.
Guilty! Court adjourned!
John Fandek, Cora