One of the largest poaching cases in Wyoming's history was finally cracked. On Monday, Dec. 12, three men were charged with more than 100 wildlife violations, as the result of a seven-year-long investigation that took place across four states and several agencies. The convicted men include Russell Vick of Alabama; Robert Underwood of Oklahoma; and David Underwood of South Dakota, with fines that amounted to more than $300,000 in fines and restitution.
“We particularly want to thank special agents with the USFWS, state wildlife law enforcement officers in Oklahoma, Alabama and South Dakota, as well as several Wyoming game wardens who investigated violations that took place within their districts,” Game and Fish chief game warden, Rick King stated. “We also appreciate the many hours spent by the Campbell, Park, Sheridan and Weston county attorney offices to make sure appropriate charges were filed."
"Additionally, assistant U.S. Attorneys at offices in Lander, Rapid City, South Dakota, Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Birmingham, Ala., spent a significant amount of time preparing and drafting federal search warrants in their respective states," the statement continues. "These search warrants allowed officers to seize and preserve evidence of the many crimes committed. Employees of the Game and Fish’s Wildlife Forensic Laboratory diligently processed multiple pieces of evidence in this case."
What to know about the Wyoming poaching case:
In Cheyenne, Wyo., Vick, Underwood, and Underwood were charged and convicted for one of the largest poaching scandals in the Lone Star state's history. The case began in October 2015, when a game warden requested a game tag for a deer head Vick was working on for taxidermy in Alabama. But per the press release, he was investigated for purchasing multiple hunting licenses in Wyoming. He was then connected with the other men, who had also purchased multiple hunting licenses from the same address.
USFWS agents, Assistant U.S. Attorneys across several states, and Alabama wildlife officials then executed a search warrant on Vick's home in 2017, with warrants later executed on the others' respective homes. Several animal heads were seized from all homes, and digital proof was also uncovered. Illegally taken or possessed alligators and migratory birds were also taken from Vick's taxidermy shop, and even more mounted heads were found in a trailer 60 miles from his home.
The other two men were also in possession of countless illegally hunted taxidermy. Altogether, they have been fined a cumulative $171,230 and restitution amounting to $131,550.
All three men appeared in court at different points in 2020. In addition to the financial charges, all of them have also been sentenced to jail time. Vick received the most with 80 days in jail, followed by Underwood, who served 50 days in jail. All three of them face lifetime hunting bans.
The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact enforces hunting bans in 49 states.
Wyoming is one of 49 U.S. states that participates in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, according to KTVQ. That means if someone is granted a hunting ban in one of said states, the partner states also enforce that ban. Since all of these men were banned from hunting in the state of Wyoming, they are also banned from doing so in those other 48 states.
Aside from the obvious aspects of hunting that involve killing animals, poaching takes a nasty toll on the environment — particularly biodiversity. Whether it's considered poaching because the animals are protected, if it involves over-hunting, or hunting at the wrong time, it can wreak havoc in an ecosystem.
Therefore we, and the rest of the planet, are relieved these monsters won't be doing crimes against nature any longer.