Poaching increases near Oil & Gas drill sites
Deer, antelope , fawns and sage grouse poached
by Wyoming Game & Fish Department
November 18, 2005
(Rock Springs) Investigators with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have been involved with three major poaching cases near energy drilling locations in southwest Wyoming in less than a year.
In October, wildlife officers discovered multiple game violations near Pine Mountain southwest of Rock Springs at a coal bed methane drilling location operated by El Paso Corporation, with Ensign as the contracted drilling company. In February, three men were investigated for poaching at Rig 180 operated by BP/Amoco and H&P Drilling Company on Delaney Rim in Sweetwater County.
Rock Springs Game Warden Dave Hays says the El Paso case is complex and would have gone unnoticed had he not been contacted by an anonymous caller. And in December 2004, a Colorado man who identified himself as an energy drill site worker in the Baggs area was also investigated for poaching.
"This was no easy investigation. There were multiple big game animals and game birds, numerous suspects and no one at the drilling location willing to come forward with any information to explain how they got there," Hays said. "A search of the drilling site and surrounding area revealed one 2-by-2 buck mule deer head and four buck antelope heads, one buried fawn antelope and three sage grouse carcasses."
After many interviews and phone calls, the primary suspect is Ivan "Rooster" Gross, 23, of Steinbach, Manitoba, working for Ensign US Drilling as a driller.
A .17 HMR caliber rifle was identified as the weapon used by Gross to kill the deer and antelope was tracked to a co-worker's personal vehicle at the drill site.
According to El Paso Corporation representative Donnie Trimble, company policies strictly prohibit firearms on any location operated by El Paso Corporation. She added the policy also applies to the employees of all sub-contractors associated with the drilling operation.
Officers determined that Ensign employees used a backhoe to dig a hole to bury a whole fawn antelope carcass. It could not be determined if the fawn had been shot or deliberately run down with a vehicle. No one at the location claimed any knowledge about the fawn or who was involved with the excavation.
Interviewed by telephone from his home in Manitoba, Gross admitted killing one buck mule deer, one buck antelope and driving over and killing four sage grouse. These incidents occurred in an Ensign truck, during work hours, on the way to the rig site and in close proximity to the site. Gross skinned and butchered the antelope and deer carcasses at the rig site and most of the meat was cooked and eaten in the crew trailer.
After being confronted with possible penalties and consulting with his attorney, Gross indicated he has no plans on ever returning to the United States to work or face the pending charges against him.
Charges pending against Gross include: Taking antlered or horned wildlife without a license, taking big game with illegal caliber weapon, shooting from a public road, shooting from a vehicle and waste of edible portions. If convicted, Gross could face fines and restitution approaching $30,000, loss of hunting privileges for many years and jail time up to three years.
Hays issued citations to Ensign employees Rafael Arce, 26, of Denver, and James C. Ewbank, 24, of Morris, Manitoba, for possession and transporting wildlife parts (antelope heads) without Interstate Game Tags. Both men claimed that they had cut the heads off of two road-killed antelope. Both paid their fine and forfeited bond of $110 each and had the antelope heads confiscated.
In the Rig 180 case south of Wamsutter, Wesley Wayne Ramzinski, 27, of Austin, Texas, and Randall Eugene Murray, 47, of Riverton were convicted of poaching an antelope and a mule deer. Charges are pending against Jeffrey Joseph Bump, 41, of Sacramento, Calif. for taking a buck antelope out of season.
Ramzinski, drilling supervisor with H&P Drilling, and Murray, a deck hand for H&P, went hunting for "anything" in late December 2004 between Baggs and Creston Junction. With Murray driving, Ramzinski used Murray' s .22 caliber rifle and shot a three-point buck mule deer. In another incident, Ramzinski shot a doe antelope in the Latham Draw Area with a .22 caliber rifle. The two men transported the deer and antelope back to the rig site at Latham Draw, where they stored the meat in a freezer.
In a separate incident, Bump, also a driller with H&P, shot a buck antelope with a .22 caliber rifle also belonging to Murray. Bump loaded the antelope into his company vehicle and brought it back to the rig site, where he skinned the animal and put the meat in the freezer.
Bump fled to California and an arrest warrant has been issued.
Murray was fined $8,060 and had his hunting privileges revoked for 10 years. Ramzinski was fined $2,390 and also had his hunting privileges revoked for 10 years. Together, Murray and Ramzinski will pay $10,000 in restitution.
In the third incident, Gregory Dean Martinez, 46, of Craig, Colo. was investigated for poaching a four-point buck mule deer off Wyoming Highway 789 north of Baggs. Although Martinez slit the throat and partially gutted the deer, he claims he did not shoot the deer. Martinez, who identified himself as an energy drill site worker, was never convicted or prosecuted for the wildlife violation because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested him first on a previous federal offense.
There is an increasing amount of drilling going on in southwest Wyoming, and these are the only poaching cases the Game and Fish has detected to date. These workers have a lot of time on their hands during the rigging down process. These incidents are occurring in remote places, within a work culture of rig workers who are reluctant to talk about any illegal activities. Game and Fish officers hope that when people find out their highly valued wildlife is being poached, they will get more involved and report poachers.
Anyone with information about a wildlife violation is urged to contact the their local game warden or the Stop Poaching hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.