Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Anti-wolf activist loses hunting privileges

Tony Mayer sentenced for illegally killing bull elk


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Anti-wolf activist Tony Mayer, right, sits with his attorney, John Lothspeich, at a court hearing Friday. Mayer, the founder of SaveElk.com, lost his Idaho hunting and fishing rights for three years for illegally killing a bull elk in northern Blaine County in 2009. Photo by Willy Cook

An anti-wolf activist has lost his privilege to hunt and fish in Idaho for three years for illegally killing a bull elk in northern Blaine County in 2009.

At sentencing Friday afternoon in Blaine County Magistrate Court, Judge Jason Walker further ruled that Tony Mayer, a Twin Falls businessman and the founder of the anti-wolf website SaveElk.com, could lose his hunting and fishing rights for another six years if he fails at probation.

Mayer, 60, was required to surrender his current license at the conclusion of Friday's three-hour hearing. He removed it from his wallet and handed it to a court bailiff, who delivered the document to the judge.

In a criminal case filed last year, Mayer was originally charged with a felony for killing an elk deemed to have "trophy" status. In accord with a plea agreement, the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office agreed to have the felony charged dismissed in exchange for Mayer's pleading guilty to misdemeanor crimes of hunting without an elk tag, hunting without an archery permit and unlawful taking of wildlife.

Mayer admitted to the crimes at the beginning of Friday's hearing.

Judge Walker considered each crime separately, but sentenced Mayer to a total of nine years loss of hunting and fishing privileges, suspending imposition of all but three years. Walker further gave Mayer a 220-day suspended jail sentence, placed him on probation for six years and ordered him to pay a $400 court fine, $435 in court costs and a $750 Idaho Department and Fish and Game fine for the illegal killing of an elk. The judge also ordered Mayer to provide 100 hours of community service.

Walker noted that the case has received significant news media and public attention because of the nature of the crime and because of Mayer's support for the anti-wolf movement. However, the judge said he was sentencing Mayer on the merits of the case and would not consider possible political overtones.

Walker further noted that the hearing drew the highest number of spectators that he's ever had for a misdemeanor sentencing. Spectators included five uniformed Fish and Game officers, staff from the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, a few Mayer family members and three apparent Mayer supporters, including Stanley outfitter Ron Gillett.

Several witnesses were called to testify prior to sentencing.

Elk hunt

The case against Mayer originated in fall 2009, when Mayer killed the elk in the Alturas Lake area of northern Blaine County. Fish and Game officers alleged that Mayer killed an elk on Oct. 3, three days after the archery elk hunt ended on Sept. 30.

Fish and Game initiated an investigation on Oct. 8, 2009, after Mayer posted stories and photos about the hunt on Bowsite, a popular sportsmen's website, and Sportsman's Warehouse Bragg'n Board. In an investigation report, Fish and Game officers wrote that the information in the websites didn't add up and suggested that the animal was killed after the season ended.

The criminal case was filed in Blaine County nearly a year later, on Sept. 8, 2010.

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At Friday's hearing, defense attorney John Lothspeich, of Jerome, accused Fish and Game of targeting Mayer because of his political opinions.

"This case should have never been a felony," Lothspeich said. "They want to paint Mr. Mayer as a criminal, as an Al Capone, and the bottom line is that Fish and Game has an agenda for pursuing Mr. Mayer because he has been very vocal with the department. That's why they spent a year trying to pin this felony on him."

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback explained to the court that the prosecutor's office agreed to have the felony dismissed because of discrepancies in the measurements of the animal's antlers to determine if it had trophy status.

The difference between illegally killing a trophy elk and a regular elk in Idaho is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. In Idaho, a Boone and Crockett measurement score of at least 300 is required for trophy elk status.

Using the Boone and Crockett scoring system, one official measurer contracted by Fish and Game scored the antlers at 303, while another official measurer, contracted by Lothspeich, scored them at 296.

Mayer and his wife, Charlotte Mayer, told the court that he shot the elk on Sept. 30, trailed the wounded animal for two days and was able to retrieve the carcass on Oct. 3 after the animal had fallen into a creek and drowned.

Charlotte Mayer said her husband thought he was legally obligated to retrieve an animal he'd wounded, and that he told her, "I've always been taught if you shoot an animal, you recover it."

She said Tony Mayer thought he'd purchased an Idaho elk tag prior to the hunt but was unable to find it when the elk was recovered.

"He was fumbling around in his pocket and pulled out his tag and said, 'This is a Montana tag—I thought it was my Idaho tag,'" she said.

Tony Mayer told the court that he mistakenly thought he had the proper tag. He further said that he simply overlooked the fact that he needed an archery permit.

Fish and Game investigator Josh Royce testified that it was illegal for Mayer to retrieve the elk on Oct. 3, regardless of when he shot it.

Royce further testified that the illegal killing of the bull further damaged an elk population in northern Blaine County that is already "below our management objective."

Tony Mayer told the court that publicity in the case has damaged his business and forced him to give up many of his civic activities.

"It's been a constant onslaught of negative press," he said. "It has just been horrendous to my business and my family. As a result, my family has been shunned in my community. We've even talked about having to move out of the community because of this.

"I did not intentionally do this—I am not a poacher person the state has made me out to be. I want to assure the court that there was no intent on my part to break the law. I thought the law required me to pursue a wounded animal."

Judge Walker noted before pronouncing sentence that there were inconsistencies in what Tony Mayer said in court Friday, what he reported on Bowsite and what he initially told Fish and Game investigators.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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