Author Lucinda Delaney Schroeder kept the attention of every Rotarian in Paonia last Thursday as she told of one of her investigations. Schroeder wrote "A Hunt For Justice — The True Story of a Woman Undercover Wildlife Agent" about her adventures in tracking hunters illegally killing trophy bear, moose, caribou and Dall sheep in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
She worked as a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife for 30 years. "I did undercover work just as a tool," she explained. "Sometimes cases can be investigated overtly, but sometimes it requires infiltration via a false persona doing undercover work to find out what is really going on," she said.
For the Alaska investigation, Schroeder began building her cover identity over 18 months in Wisconsin with a man who was a bar owner, guide and poacher. The local game warden had heard the man boasting about illegal game hunting in Alaska and wrote Schroeder. She visited the bar owner over a dozen times developing a friendship which would lead to her being able to go to the illegal Alaskan camp.
The outfitter, pilot Bob Bowman, was very particular about who he would allow in the camp. "He preferred European hunters who could violate the law in the United States and leave and never be seen again," Schroeder said.
Schroeder was accepted into the camp because as a woman hunter she was a novelty, the bar owner/guide had recommended her and she also had photographs of her with big game she had shot during other investigations. Unfortunately to be accepted as a poacher while investigating, Schroeder had to illegally kill game. Her game would then become evidence for her cases.
"When I was in the Alaska camp, I did not carry any recording equipment," Schroeder said. "Because it's not natural for hunters to have recording equipment on them. And had it been found on me, I would have been in serious trouble."
She took detailed notes in a small notebook which she kept in a passport holder under her clothes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
She participated in two illegal hunts over her 11-day camping trip in Alaska. She would be flown by plane and dropped off to a site inside the wildlife refuge selected by her guide.
Hunters paid thousands of dollars to be flown into the wildlife refuge which guaranteed them a relatively fast trophy kill in a location where all hunting was illegal. For example, the pilot would herd grizzly bears right to the waiting hunter. The bear would have no chance to escape. The poacher would have his trophy photo with the dead bear and its hide to show off.
Schroeder gained the confidence of the pilot Bob Bowman, the guides and the other hunters and got the evidence needed to bring convictions to the Americans. Foreigners were not charged because of no extradition between the U.S. and their countries of Germany and Spain. But the illegal outfitter service of Bob Bowman was shut down. Bowman served some time in prison. The poachers had to return their trophies.
Schroeder retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in 2004 and wrote her book in the same year. Lyons Press published her manuscript in 2006. Schroeder is now writing a book about one of her other investigations. She and her husband moved to Montrose because of her numerous visits to Colorado. Her husband is a wildlife biologist.
"Poaching is violating the wildlife laws. It is exploiting animals. Sometimes people will poach a lot of deer to get a big rack that they can enter into a big rack contest. Sometimes they just shoot deer at night—that's poaching —just because it's fun. They like the thrill of riding around the woods at night and coming up on a deer and shooting it. Sometimes they'll shoot a big sheep and sell the head. Any time there is money involved in the exploitation of wildlife it becomes very serious. The money drives the activity," Schroeder said.