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Outdoors: DNR night flights combat illegal shining, poaching

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using its team of conservation officer pilots to identify shiners and other lawbreakers.

"We fly at an altitude that allows us to get a good look at the landscape without being easily detected," said Lt. Thomas Buker, a DNR conservation officer pilot since 2004. "You'd be surprised at how easy it is to spot an offender from the air."

Shining is the use of an artificial light at night to temporarily immobilize wildlife. In Minnesota, it is illegal to use flashlights, spotlights, headlights or other artificial lights to locate wild animals from two hours after sunset until sunrise, year around. A person possessing a firearm, bow or other implement that could be used to take wild animals is prohibited from shining at any time. While certain exceptions apply for raccoon hunters and trappers, the laws are in place to protect and minimize disturbances to wildlife, discourage poaching and protect personal property.

Each year poachers illegally kill hundreds of deer across the state, often by shining at night.

The poachers "freeze" the deer in the bright light and shoot them. These lawbreakers can be difficult to catch, since they typically operate on lightly traveled rural roads and in remote areas.

"During night flights, we can see things that would never be visible from the ground," Buker said.

Using GPS and night vision, DNR pilots provide concise information to conservation officers in trucks. The team works in tandem to pinpoint offenders. "During the course of a few hours, we can effectively observe several hundred square miles," Buker said.

Penalties for poaching and shining can include fines of several thousand dollars, loss of vehicles, and/or equipment involved in the crime and the loss of hunting privileges.

Anyone who observes shining, poaching or someone committing another natural resource violation should call the Minnesota Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. All calls are confidential and the caller may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 if an arrest is made.