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Parma resident fined, hunting license revoked for illegal possession of bighorn sheep

Willmorth Ram lr.jpg
Posted at 5:26 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 19:59:30-05

PARMA, Idaho — A Parma man was fined and had his hunting license revoked for seven years after charges of illegally possessing a bighorn sheep in 2017.

Joe Willmorth and his wife Susan Willmorth, both of Parma, were awarded a bighorn sheep hunt tag for hunt unit 40, "an area encompassing the vast southwest corner of Idaho," according to a press release from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Fish and Game officials say after several weeks of scouting, the Willmorths decided on an isolated area in the Owyhee Canyonlands. In late September 2017, Susan "bagged a fine, trophy bighorn sheep," according to officials.

Idaho Fish and Game say the bighorn sheep bagged by the Willmorths was known to them as the "old man," and that they had spotted the sheep on multiple scouting trips. However, when the 2017 hunting season started, the sheep disappeared.

The press release says the Willmorths revisited the area days later. Multiple days of scouting bighorn sheep gave ideas as to where the local bighorn sheep population resided. Additionally, the odds of encountering other hunters were low because of the remoteness of the area.

Joe carried a trophy bighorn sheep into the Idaho Fish and Game Nampa office on Oct. 6, 2017, along with Susan's proxy statement, the agency reports. Fish and Game say he was there to measure the horns and have an identification pin inserted into the trophy, which is required by law. The release says Joe claimed Susan harvested the trophy on Oct. 1, 2017. A department staffer at the office inserted a pin into the trophy, as well as taking photos of it.

Willmorth Ram lr.jpg
A successful bighorn sheep hunt in the canyonlands of Owyhee County is a thing to be celebrated. But for a Parma man and his wife, that celebration eventually led to lawlessness.

However, in early February 2018, Fish and Game had been informed that there was something wrong with the Willmorth ram. Fish and Game say an ensuing investigation led to a search warrant of the Willmorth residence where the ram checked months earlier at the Nampa office was seized, "along with a salted bighorn hide and several electronics," which would lead to the eventual charges placed on the Willmorths.

"Throughout the months-long investigation, and hours of interviews, Joe and Susan Willmorth consistently denied any wrongdoing," officials say.

The release says DNA forensics through lab tests and cellphone photos conclusively proved that the bighorn hide and horns were from two different bighorn sheep. A seized cellphone by Fish and Game shows photos and Susan "posing proudly with her hard earned, freshly-harvested bighorn on September 23." But other photos on the phone show pictures of live sheep and a close-up of a freshly-killed bighorn ram, according to the release.

Fish and Game say the timestamp on those photos was Oct. 1, 2017. Officers with Idaho Fish and Game compared the photo of Susan posing with her harvested ram with photos of the ram checked on Oct. 6, 2017. Officers concluded that the two sheep depicted were two different sheep.

Both the forensic and photographic evidence was enough for prosecutors to file unlawful possession charges against both Willmorths. The release says a plea agreement in the following weeks lead to the dismissal of Susan Willmorth's charges. Fish and Game say Joe opted to not plead guilty to the charges, but knew that the evidence would likely lead to a conviction.

Joe appeared before Magistrate Judge Debra Orr in Canyon County court in November 2020 to hear his sentence. A $10,000 civil fine was imposed, along with processing fees court costs and fines of $1,125 for the illegal possession of a bighorn sheep. Additionally, a six-month jail sentence was suspended instead of two years unsupervised probation.

Idaho Fish and Game say Joe's hunting and trapping privileges and outdoor guide license were revoked for seven years. This revocation of privileges extends to 48 other states which are all members of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. As a condition of this probation, Joe may not accompany anyone on any hunting or trapping excursions, or be present in the camp of a hunter or trapper. If that were to happen, Willmorth would be violating his probation and would be placed for six months in the Canyon County jail.

As for the trophy ram, Fish and Game say the trophy was checked in by Joe on Oct. 6, 2020 to Fish and Game as a part of his sentencing.

"It will one day hang in the Nampa Fish and Game office, together with the story of how it came to reside there," the press release says. Judge Orr also ordered the surrender of Susan's bighorn sheep head. As of Jan. 22, 2021, Fish and Game say that bighorn head has not materialized.