Crime and Courts

Mar 1, 2011 3:32 PM by KBZK Media Center

Big Sky photographer sentenced for illegally feeding bighorn sheep to take photos

A Big Sky photographer has been sentenced for illegally feeding bighorn sheep in the Big Sky area in order to attract them so he could photograph them with Lone Peak in the background and sell the pictures.

Ryan Molde, 35, was sentenced to 10 days jail time with eight days eligible in a work program, fined $1,035 and ordered to surrender the photographs related to the crime. He is also prohibited from selling any of them in the future. He pleaded guilty on Feb.14.

An anonymous call to TIP-MONT led to the investigation of Molde for illegally feeding the sheep just off the Big Sky Road, according to a news release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He was reportedly selling the photographs locally in Big Sky.

FWP received a similar report about Molde in 2010 and issued a written warning for the feeding of game animals, which is prohibited under Montana law.

"Even after receiving a written warning, Mr. Molde was purposefully feeding bighorn sheep for commercial gain, and with blatant disregard for the health and safety of the very wildlife from which he was profiting," FWP Warden Jen Williams said in the release.

"His actions resulted in an artificial concentration of wildlife directly adjacent to a very busy highway, increasing the danger to the animals and the public," added Williams. "Molde's actions may also have contributed to the deaths of three bighorn sheep by collisions with vehicles at the site where he was feeding."

While people may think they are helping wildlife by feeding them, it actually puts the animals at risk by potentially increasing the number of animals in an area and increasing the chance of spreading disease or threatening the safety of people and animals, the release says. When gathered together, bighorn sheep are particularly susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia, which has caused die-offs of whole herds in Montana, according to the FWP.

State law prohibits any person from purposely or knowingly providing supplemental feed attractants to game animals. In addition to increasing the chances of spreading diseases or threatening public or wildlife safety, some additional facts include:

• Supplemental feeding encourages wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are not part of their natural diets
• Human foods are usually not suited for wildlife and may lead to health problems
• Young animals that are taught to depend on humans sometimes never develop normal foraging behavior, and could starve if the artificial food sources are removed or more likely become nuisances and come in conflict with humans
• Wildlife lose their fear of humans and learn that they can boldly forage for human food, causing possible risks to human safety
• Feeding wildlife, especially prey species such as deer, squirrels and rabbits, often causes a domino or food chain effect. For example: Increase deer numbers in your yard and you may be inviting a mountain lion for a free meal

Offenders could be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000, six months in jail, and potential loss of privileges to hunt, fish or trap.

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