A serial poacher has lost much of his hunting privileges for several years for illegally taking deer in a closed area of a national wildlife refuge in central Minnesota in what federal officials are calling an act of “gluttonous, wanton waste” dating to the mid-1990s.
The hunting misdeeds of William R. Welsh, of Waite Park, represent the “most extensive poaching activity in the history of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement after Welsh’s sentencing Tuesday.big gamefrom 2006 to 2011. He had five of them mounted, having the image of one of them tattooed on his back, and severed the antlers off the other three.
He further admitted to killing three other deer off the refuge in violation of state law near St. Cloud, and a witness told investigators about a fourth deer that Welsh shot at night from a vehicle while using a spotlight.
Welsh’s sentence in federal court in Minneapolis bars him from hunting big game anywhere in the United States for five years and bans him during that time from entering the refuge, which allows hunting in designated public-access areas. He also cannot hunt small game for two years.
Welsh also forfeits whatever firearms and other hunting gear was seized as part of the investigation, along with trophy mounts and antlers from seven illegally taken deer. Welsh will be on probation for two years and must perform 100 hours of community service. Sentencing guidelines called for a maximum of six months’ incarceration.
“Gluttonous, wanton waste like this has no place on refuge lands and has a negative impact on legal, ethical hunting opportunities,” said Pat Lund, the Wildlife Service’s resident agent in charge for Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri.
Welsh was charged in September with a misdemeanor and agreed in October to plead guilty to shooting and killing a deer two years earlier in the refuge’s closed area, sawing off the antlers and hauling them to his home. He left the carcass behind. He then took the antlers to someone else’s home with directions to hide them.
The Wildlife Service, with the help of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), pinpointed Welsh’s illegal hunting operation north of Zimmerman, a swath of the refuge that barred public access.
“This investigation revealed at least a decade of egregious poaching on the refuge and other areas throughout the state,” said Fish and Wildlife Service zone law enforcement officer Brent Taylor. “While the loss to the resource cannot be undone, it is good to know that this poacher will not be able to continue his unethical behavior anywhere in the country.”
Welsh’s attorney, William Peterson, said his client pleaded guilty “to get it wrapped up and get it behind him. … He regretted it. I don’t see him continuing being any kind of offender in that regard.”
Peterson, who worked for nine years in the state attorney general’s office in the area of wildlife law, said he never felt Welsh was at risk of serving time, despite his admissions that spanned many years.
“Generally, on game and fish violations, there is not jail time imposed,” the attorney said.
‘A lot more’ goes on
Gregory Burley, a 63-year-old lifelong deer hunter from Princeton who never misses a season, said Wednesday that Welsh’s acts of poaching were occurring “right in my back yard, practically.”
Burley said “there’s a lot more of this that goes on in the state than anyone knows about. It’s really hard to stop people.”
As an officer with the local chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Burley lamented that poachers such as Welsh “put deer hunters in a bad light. Anytime anyone gets caught, the anti-hunters are right there on it.”
A tip to the DNR’s Turn-in-Poachers hot line in November 2011 led authorities to Welsh, who unlawfully hunted in the closed area with his 11-year-old son, and to the discovery of five permanent tree stands.
Welsh’s run-ins with hunting enforcement dates to 1996, when the DNR cited him for illegally hunting deer in a state game refuge. He lost his hunting privileges for three years in that case.
Once snared in the 2011 poaching incident, Welsh admitted to investigators that he used his wife’s license in 1998 and killed a deer while his license was revoked and then used his wife’s deer tag to cover his tracks, according to the Wildlife Service.