Friday, June 22, 2018
Public safety

Poaching grows problematic in southeast Hillsborough

WIMAUMA — On a sunny and warm fall morning, all appears peaceful in rural southeastern Hillsborough County.

Farmers survey citrus crops while their workers tend to the orchards. Cattle graze in the fields, ranch hands care for property and equipment, and quiet envelops the small homes and farms that dot the landscape.

But lately, poachers and thieves have marred this country serenity, killing animals on private property and stealing equipment. The problem has grown so persistent that the sound of shots echo through night and early morning hours, and it's not uncommon to find cut fences as violators encroach onto private properties.

A task force made up of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Agricultural Crime Unit and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to monitor the poaching problem.

Last month, the task force arrested a 19-year-old Mulberry man. Authorities charged Dalton Gant with felony armed trespassing after arresting him near Bethlehem Road and Albritton Road for poaching a deer on private property.

Deputies found a pickup truck known to be used by poachers hidden in the woods. It contained hunting equipment and remnants of recently killed animals.

The task force operation centers primarily on ending the illegal hunting of deer, but perpetrators also trespass to hunt pigs and turkey and to net fish, according to Sgt. Ed Raburn with HCSO's Homeland Security Division. Raburn says the hunters will shoot anything they see whenever and wherever they see it as long as it's convenient.

"It's a crime of opportunity," Raburn said. "People don't have access to land to hunt on or don't want to travel to a place to hunt, but they live in close proximity to private property or public land where hunting isn't allowed.

"When they trespass on this property to hunt, the poaching occurs."

Hunters turn to poaching for a number of reasons. Some hunt for trophies, thrill or meat. When the situation becomes lucrative, the meat can be sold for profit, as was the case in Central Florida last November, when state wildlife agents arrested 10 people suspected of being members of a Florida poaching ring shipping thousands of pounds of illegal meat around the country. The shipments included everything from deer to turkeys and even armadillos.

Farmers and ranchers worry about the associated safety risks that accompany the crime of poaching. They fear their families and their employees who work outdoors in the fields could be harmed by stray bullets, since some poachers will shoot from passing cars on the road.

They also worry about livestock getting loose and running astray on private property and county roads, when poachers cut through their fences.

The small farmers, ranch hands and homeowners in rural southeastern Hillsborough County have become moving targets to poachers.

Some of the farmers pursue raccoons and opossums that can attack their chickens, but now the shots they hear in the dark may come from poachers instead of ranchers chasing pests.

Jack Sizemore, who is part of a family business that owns 700 acres of strawberries, citrus and watermelon farms in the Wimauma area, says he sees evidence of poaching.

"You see illegal dumping, trash, carcasses, damaged property from four-wheel pickups running things over, and fences that have been cut," Sizemore said, standing next to Jaymar Produce Co., a packing operation he owns on State Road 674 in Wimauma.

"Word of mouth and communication are what's needed to stop the poaching," Sizemore added. "When the heat is on, everybody gets quiet. In my opinion, the best defense against anything like this is your neighbors. If you see anything odd, report it. A fence, a gate and a lock only work for honest folks."

Besides poaching, thieves target area farmers and ranchers. Sizemore has had everything from sprinklers and pesticides, to diesel fuel and batteries from power units stolen from his farms.

Thieves and poachers also have been known to encroach on properties with dogs in the middle of the night in pursuit of deer. They've use Global Positioning Systems to guide their way on the sprawling ranches.

Authorities encourage the farmers to be vigilant and alert.

"Putting a stop to this behavior will certainly have an impact on the safety of our citizens as well as the environment," Raburn noted. "It's a worthy investment in our community."

Kathryn Moschella can be reached at [email protected]

 
Comments
Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

Tampa boy, 14, shot on bike, police asking for help

TAMPA — Police want to know who shot 14-year-old De’Nico Thomas after a night of playing video games.Thomas was at a friend’s home Wednesday night and walking home when Tampa police said he was shot, resulting in life-threatening injuries.As he faces...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

Clearwater police search for ‘Bic Bandit’ accused of stealing lighters

CLEARWATER — Police detectives are searching for a man coined the "Bic Bandit" based on reports that he’s stolen dozens of lighters from the same 7-Eleven.According to Clearwater police, the man has swiped the lighters four times in the last month, t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

FHP: One dead, three seriously injured in head-on Pasco crash

DADE CITY — A Dade City man was killed and three others were seriously injured after a pickup truck and motorcycle crashed head-on Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Floyd Williamson, 72, of Lakeland, was driving northbound on U....
Updated: 7 hours ago
Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Body of missing Hernando park ranger found in Georgia; boyfriend being questioned

Georgia detectives on Friday recovered the body of Mitzi Marie Babb, a 43-year-old Hernando park ranger who had been missing since Tuesday.Her boyfriend, arrested Thursday on unrelated charges, has been called a person of interest in her disappearanc...
Updated: 9 hours ago
A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

A Pasco driver was annoyed another driver was texting. So he pointed a firearm at her.

PORT RICHEY — A 41-year-old Uber driver was arrested Friday after police said he pointed a firearm at another driver because he was annoyed that she was texting and driving.Philip Macchio was driving near State Road 52 and U.S. 19 around 12:30 a.m. F...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

A 28-year-old cheerleading coach faces charges for engaging in "inappropriate behavior" with a 16-year-old girl, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Victor Martin Valenty faces 10 counts of traveling to meet a minor, distributing ob...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

Suspect arrested in rapper XXXTentacion’s shooting death

FORT LAUDERDALE — Authorities in Florida have arrested a suspect in the killing of rising rap star XXXTentacion, who was fatally shot in his luxury BMW electric car as he left an upscale motorcycle dealership. Dedrick Devonshay Williams, 22, o...
Published: 06/21/18
St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

ST. PETERSBURG — Three lieutenants responsible for supervising the police officers who patrol the city were found to have been faking their work hours instead of showing up for duty on time.In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets st...
Published: 06/21/18
Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

A Suntrust Bank in Zephyr-hills was robbed early Thursday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.At 12:50 p.m., deputies said, the man walked into the bank at 34511 State Road 54 and presented a note demanding money, though he did ...
Published: 06/21/18
Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

Man found dead in Hillsborough Bay had a big fan in the cat world

TAMPA — To his friends and neighbors at Tampa Baptist Manor, Norman Lester Porterfield was the man who fed and spoiled Lucky, the scruffy stray calico cat in the back yard. To his friends and coworkers at the Salvation Army, he was a great athlete, a...
Published: 06/21/18