From the September 2001 Idaho Observer:

While the legislature is away, the agencies will play

Oregon wildlife rancher served with 51 criminal charges for alleged violations of administrative code

ASHWOOD, Ore. -- At the apparent urging of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), Jefferson County Prosecutor filed 51 misdemeanor charges on behalf of the state against wildlife rancher Clark Couch (49). The criminal charges, filed July 30, 2001, allege violations of ODFW administrative code wherein Couch has been unlawfully selling, hunting and possessing wildlife on his remote and ruggedly terrained 2,200-acre game ranch here.

The charges stem from information obtained from records seized after a search warrant was obtained last September during an ODFW-led raid on Couch's Clover Creek Ranch.

The ODFW-prompted state action commenced within a few weeks of the closure of the 2001 legislative session. The Oregon legislature, which meets every second year, has refused to pass ODFW-supported bills intended to close Couch's Clover Creek Ranch in its last three sessions.

Couch legally purchases exotic animals from abroad and legally brings them onto his property where private parties may hunt them for a fee. Though he has the documents that prove ownership of the animals, the ODFW claims they, like all wildlife, belong to the state. Couch has been licensed by the state to keep and propagate wildlife since 1956.

The ODFW, which operates at least one enclosed fee-hunting operation near LaGrande, Ore., has been attempting to close Couch down since 1988. The ODFW “investigation” of Couch's activities began in earnest in 1994. A governor's office memo from 1994 obtained in discovery indicate the true intent of the ODFW in this case. The memo stated that “...operations such as Clover Creek Ranch” must be shut down so they don't diminished “deer and elk tag revenues.”

The state has made several claims that Couch's animals will escape to breed with native wildlife and spread disease. So far, the ODFW has been unable to prove the claims, nor has it been able to prove Couch guilty of any other violations of law.

The decade-long controversy and Couch's refusal to give up, has attracted the attention and support of a handful of legislators, dozens of hunting organizations, citizens and property rights advocates. Ike Sugg, former director of the Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association commented that, since the legislature has refused to pass a law that would force Couch out of business the ODFW, “ trying to circumvent the legislature by using administrative rules to close him down.”

Mark Pollot of the Boise-based Foundation for Constitutional Law is helping Couch to defend himself against the ODFW's latest attack on his property rights. Other influential persons and organizations are amassing a war chest to put an end to the ODFW's persecution of Couch.

The ODFW is philosophically aligned with federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and well-funded militant green groups such as Earth First and animal-rights groups such has People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (who believe that no animals should be used by people for any reason). It appears that the ODFW is so zealously obsessed with using the agenda of federal agencies and special interest groups that advocate the control of private property usage, it will intentionally defy the legislature that commissioned its authority.

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