Iowa D.N.R. conservation officers are making several arrests in two separate cases in the illegal hunting of wildlife — raccoons in western Iowa and trumpeter swans in the southeast. Three Audubon men have pleaded guilty to charges of poaching at least 72 raccoons, while a fourth man in the case requested a jury trial.
D.N.R. spokesman Mick Klemesrud says the case is a little baffling because the price of raccoon pelts has fluctuated very little over the past several decades. “It is a little more unusual that you see this today because the price, in relation to the value, is expensive,” Klemesrud says. “Shells are expensive. Gas is expensive, but it’s unfortunate that they decided to do it this way.”
There is a season for hunting raccoons under certain conditions, but he says these men were breaking several of the rules. “What these guys were doing was spotlighting them from their car, chasing them either up a tree and shooting them or shooting them on the ground and then just selling the whole body for the hide,” Klemesrud says. “Furbearers were giving them, depending on the quality of the hide, anywhere from $5 to $17 a piece.”
The poaching took place primarily in Audubon County, but also in Harrison, Shelby and Guthrie counties. The suspects are all from Audubon: 18-year-old Ben Petersen, 19-year-old Scott Downer, 20-year-old Chris Groninga and 19-year-old Michael Sonntag. The DNR seized a number of items including guns, spotlights, traps and deer antlers. In the other case, 39-year-old Ryan Standard, of Burlington, is charged with fatally shooting two trumpeter swans in Lee County last month. Klemesrud says there’s no excuse for killing those beautiful birds.
“We’ve got too many people shooting trumpeter swans in Iowa,” Klemesrud says. “People complain, ‘Well, I thought it was a snow goose.’ If you’ve ever seen a trumpeter swan next to a snow goose, there’s no way you’re going to mistake one for the other. One weighs 35 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan, the other weighs up to five pounds and has an 18-inch wingspan.” The suspects in both cases were arrested thanks to calls through the state’s “TIP” or Turn In Poachers hotline.