SACRAMENTO — State game wardens on Saturday arrested three men in connection with a poaching ring that killed deer, elk and wild boar and then sold the meat to private buyers in Northern California.
The arrests culminated a two monthlong investigation, dubbed "Operation High Hog," by the California Department of Fish and Game, said department Lt. Patrick Foy.
The investigation was sparked by ranch owners in Colusa, Butte and Glenn counties who had complained of repeated poaching on their properties since mid-summer. Game wardens were never able to get to the outlying ranches in time to catch the poachers, but property owners were able to supply license plate numbers of the suspects' vehicles, Foy said.
Wardens put the suspects under surveillance that included use of airplanes to track their movements, Foy said.
The suspects were seen hunting at night using "spotlighting," or shining bright lights into the animals' eyes, effectively causing them to freeze so they could easily shoot them. They also used illegal snares, Foy said.
Surveillance also included the sale of the game meat to a market in Sacramento County and to a network of private buyers. Seven search warrants were served Saturday at the buyers' homes, where wardens found the meat in freezers, Foy said.
Arrested were Jason Martinez, 37, of Elk Grove; Bryan Carrion, 46 of Colusa, and Gerald Martin, 36, of Pollock Pines.
Foy said the men were all convicted felons with fish and game violations. Investigators found illegal snares at Carrion's home and 38 firearms in Martin's possession, Foy said.
The men, who were booked into the Colusa County jail, could not be reached for comment. It was unknown whether they had lawyers.
Foy said the meat buyers were not arrested, but the department will recommend that the district attorney also charge the buyers with violating fish and game laws.