Monday, January 30, 2006 Volume 17, Issue 4
By Tom Klein
Department of Natural Resource officers found the decomposed remains
of white-tailed deer, pine marten, fisher and other wildlife in the
possession of a Buyck trapper and taxidermist, who faces eight years in
prison and $20,000 in fines on multiple charges.
James Andrew Brattrud, 30, made his initial court appearance on Jan.
13 in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing. No trial date on the
charges has been set.
In addition to natural resource offenses, Brattrud has been charged
with two weapons violations for possession of a pistol without a permit
and a short-barreled shotgun. Other violations include possession of
prohibited wild animals, wanton waste of a protected animal, overlimits
of bass and northern pike, taking small game without a license and
failure to have a license to mount specimens of wild animals.
“In terms of wanton waste, this is the worst case that I’ve ever
seen,” said Conservation Officer Steve Beckman, a 12year veteran who
assisted in the investigation. “Other officers told me the same thing.”
The DNR launched its investigation of Brattrud in January 2003 after
Conservation Officer Troy Fondie, of Orr, received a complaint of a dog
caught in a snare in the Crane Lake area. Fondie located the snare sites
of Brattrud, who denied catching the dog.
Fondie documented several violations believed to be committed by
Brattrud, including failure to tend snares daily and no identification
affixed to snares.
A follow-up investigation in February at Brattrud’s taxidermy shop
Northwoods Wildlife Studio uncovered additional alleged violations,
including multiple record-keeping offenses. A large number of furbearing
animals were stacked on top of a freezer in the porch and other
furbearing animals were inside the kitchen area, including muskrat, pine
marten, red fox, weasel and red squirrel in different stages of decay.
During the February visit, Fondie noticed several snares that had
what appeared to be fisher hair on the cables. Brattrud acknowledged
that the fisher were accidentally killed while attempting to release
them. The following day, Brattrud turned over four illegal fisher to the
Minnesota law says a person may not possess or transport a fisher,
otter, pine marten, fox, bobcat, lynx, or gray wolf that was
accidentally killed until the person notifies the local conservation
officer, other authorized department employee, or regional enforcement
office, of the killing and receives authorization to possess, transport,
or skin the animal.
In late February 2003, Fondie received information from the St. Louis
County Sheriff’s Department regarding a complaint from someone who had
failed to receive a fisher they had bought from Brattrud.
Brattrud’s small game privileges were revoked in March 2003 after
being convicted of having no identification on snares and failure to
tend snares daily.
Fondie subsequently requested assistance from the DNR’s Special
Investigations Unit for additional assistance in the investigation of
Brattrud’s trapping activities.
During the early phase of the investigation conducted on Sept. 19,
2003, Brattrud guided two conservation officer investigators on a black
bear hunt in the Buyck area. At that time, Brattrud was a licensed DNR
bear hunter’s guide.
On the second day of the guided hunt, the officers were shown where
the bear baits were stored. They also observed a broken freezer in the
building that reeked of decaying bear hides and other decomposed wild
animals that were unidentifiable. Officers also noticed several
decomposing beaver and raccoon carcasses on the floor of a nearby fur
shed. Violations were documented and, based upon additional information
received that indicated Brattrud was violating terms of his small game
license revocation, the investigation was extended into the trapping
During the open trapping season in December 2003 and December 2004,
the officers documented Brattrud trapping in violation of his revocation
status, which included the taking of eight fisher/pine marten over the
limit. The current harvest limit for fisher/marten is five animals
combined. The decomposed remains of a red fox were also found in one of
the many traps Brattrud had set in the area.
On Dec. 11, 2004, Fondie encountered Brattrud in the woods south of
Crane Lake again setting snares without the required identification on
them. Brattrud was cited for the offense and convicted on Jan. 5, 2005.
This violation, along with violations in 2003, again resulted in his
small game privileges being revoked.
Based upon the evidence collected and personal observations by
conservation officers, a search warrant was served on Brattrud’s
residence on Jan. 26, 2005. Conservation officers subsequently seized
two whole and spoiled white-tailed deer taken during the 2003 Minnesota
firearm deer season, nine whole bass which exceeded the state limit of
six, one whole northern pike and northern pike fillets totaling one fish
over the limit, and one illegal short-barreled shotgun.
On April 4, 2005, conservation officers returned to the Buyck area
where they believed traps and snares set by Brattrud still remained
active during closed season. The officers were able to locate the
decomposed remains of several pine marten, otter, and muskrat still in
the traps and snares.
Little relief for customers
Beckman said customers who left wildlife or fish with Brattrud may be
left with little recourse. Brattrud failed to keep current records and
without evidence of a contract, it may be difficult for customers who
paid fees to Brattrud to recover their funds.
“I feel bad for the people,” said Beckman, “especially for younger
kids, who had probably left their first-caught bass at the shop. I spoke
to people who said they left several specimens there and gave Brattrud a
substantial sum of money and they may never see anything.”
Brattrud had some records dating back several years, according to
Beckman, and some of the decomposition of animals was caused by a
malfunctioning freezer. However, it appears Brattrud made no attempt to
notify those whose trophies were damaged and reportedly changed his
phone number to avoid customer complaints.
Fondie said Brattrud’s actions should not reflect on all trappers.
“The goal is not to give the sport of trapping a black eye,” he said.
“Trapping is still alive and well. It’s a part of our heritage.
“But as game wardens, we have to make sure there is a fair and
equitable harvest and that rules of the season are followed,” he
continued. “We’re the referees in a bigger field.”
Those who left items with Brattrud or have further information to
share that may assist the case can contact the DNR Special
Investigations Office at 651-355-0165.