The Ontario Government is asking for the public’s help solving wildlife cold cases

A conservation officer's crest badge [Photo credit: Ron Arnold]

There’s a shooting out on an isolated stretch of northern Ontario wilderness. A body is left behind, its tongue and nose cut out. A single bullet is removed from the corpse’s shoulder, but without witnesses or a suspect, investigations soon hit a dead end. The case goes cold.

No, this isn’t an episode of CSI. It’s an unsolved case from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry cold case files.

In this case, the victim of the shooting was a bull moose whose body was found out near Red Lake, left to spoil. It’s one of about twenty unsolved cases the ministry has put onto an online map of cold natural resource cases that they hope the public will come forward to help solve.

Screenshot of the MNRF's natural resource cold case map
The MNRF’s online tool maps out cold cases and provides opportunities for the public to report violations.
[Screenshot from Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry]

“Every year, a number of natural resources violations go unsolved,” explains Ron Arnold, a Conservation Officer in the Niagara region. “They’re difficult to solve because they happen in remote areas or in areas where there’s very few eyewitnesses.”

These cases can involve anything from poaching to exceeding fishing and hunting limits to dumping waste (the ministry maintains a more extensive list). Many of them are instances of abandoned game, including big-game mammals and even fish that have been killed and left to spoil. Sometimes people shoot wildlife from the road, then speed off. But COs know that somewhere out there are people who have the information they need.

“Somebody knows something,” says Arnold, “All it takes is one day for someone to hear something at a local coffeeshop or a church or a street parade or at a hunt club, and the next thing you know, we finally figure out who it is and solve it.”

The program is still in its infancy, but already raising public awareness

The map has been online for less than a year and hasn’t yet directly led to capture of a perpetrator, but it has gotten people and media outlets talking, which is a vital step towards solving these cases, says Arnold. Some of the cases are a few years old, and the only answers may lie with members of the public.

“The more awareness we bring to the public about what’s going on out there when it comes to this sort of thing, I think will hopefully cause more people to speak up and not allow these things to happen. It only takes one phone call to solve one of these cases.”

Conservation Officer looking through binoculars
Conservation officers use all sorts of policing tools to solve natural resources violations, but like traditional police they also rely on the public’s knowledge to help solve cases. [Photo credit: Ron Arnold]
Cold natural resources cases are actually quite rare, however. “There are only, say, 35 cases that are cold right now. 150,000 of them were solved,” Arnold says. “We have massive success in the province doing what we do.”

Who commits natural resources violations?

So why do people commit these offenses, leaving animals to waste in the wilderness, or hunting species at risk?

“Sometimes it’s opportunistic, sometimes it’s the thrill of the chase, sometimes it’s pure carelessness, and sometimes it’s honest mistakes and they run from it,” Arnold explains. He says Conservation Officers understand that mistakes happen, but they urge people to come clean when they find they’ve violated the law. “They need to step forward. Running away from a problem never solves it.”

As for people who poach for profit, they’re rare, though they do exist. Most hunters or anglers want to obey the law and want to preserve Canada’s wildlife and natural areas.

“You have to know that 95% of the hunters or fishermen in any province are good people,” Arnold says. “There’s so many good people.”

What should you do if you know something?

If you know something about a natural resources cold case, or see a new violation occurring, the best thing is to get in touch with your local Conservation Officer personally to speak one-on-one. COs are highly familiar with the regions they cover because, says Arnold, and part of that is maintaining networks.

The ministry also has a 24/7 tip line, and has partnered with Crimestoppers for those who want to report anonymously.

“Any piece of information specific to any of these cases is valuable and relevant. No tip will be un-responded to,” says Arnold. “All of the information will be put forward the case, whether it’s good information or not. And we thank the public for following along with us.”

The MNRF’s tip line can be reached 1-877-847-7667, and anonymous calls can be made to Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

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