Trafficking: A Memoir of an Undercover Game Warden. By Tony Latham. ISBN 9781475209891 (Amazon.com: More Information or Purchase)
This is a gripping and absorbing true story, skillfully and precisely told. If there is any one book that tells what it’s really like to be on the front lines, protecting our nation’s wildlife, this is the one.
Trafficking will quickly pull you in and keep you turning the pages. I promise. You won’t be able to put it down. It’s that good.
Author Tony Latham worked for the Idaho Fish and Game Department as a conservation officer. His job was to enforce wildlife laws: checking fishing and hunting licenses, making sure fisherman didn’t exceed their bag limits, developing cases against poachers, and dozens of other tasks.
When it comes to any sort of law enforcement job, the work is not without its risks, but when he received a phone call in 1991, it was about to become a whole lot riskier.
The department had just instituted a new undercover program, and Latham was asked to investigate an operation in which a member of the Nez Perce Indian tribe was selling wild game meat through a bed and breakfast owned by a non-native. Treaty rights allow the Nez Perce to kill wildlife on National Forest land year round, but under tribal law, it is illegal to sell game. Likewise, under state laws, it is illegal for non-tribal members to sell game or kill animals out of season.
Latham, along with a partner experienced in covert operations, travel to a small town along the Clearwater River in North Central Idaho, and very quickly they find themselves among the underbelly of that society: petty thieves, thugs, rapists, poachers, drug dealers, the works. Latham is suddenly in an element entirely foreign to him. The story is so well told that his nervousness is palpable as he deals with the strain of trying to be someone he’s not, and all the while, experiencing a slow peeling back of his innocence.
There are plenty of wildlife laws being broken – almost every day while they are undercover - laws broken by natives and non natives alike. Latham, who has a great respect for fairness and sportsmanship and a love for wildlife –values instilled by his family - forces himself to hold his tongue and sit back and watch some of the most depraved hunting behavior imaginable: shooting from roads and vehicles, using spot lights to blind animals, leaving wounded game to suffer, killing pregnant females. Killing for the sake of killing - killing, not for food, not for subsistence or a way of life, but for greed.
As foreign and as difficult as it is to Latham, he and his partner return on several occasions to try to collect enough evidence to create a convincing case. Their worry was that the local prosecutors wouldn’t find the case important enough to spend the time on it, allowing the perpetrators to thumb their noses and go free. It was wildlife after all. According to Idaho law at the time, the crimes they were documenting – offensive and repulsive as they were - only amounted to misdemeanors. But illegal activity that they witnessed continued unabated, and then things took a serious turn when a young woman is sexually assaulted and Latham finds himself involved in a robbery.
They were putting themselves on the line in more than one way. Doubts in the Fish & Game bureaucracy began surfacing and support wavered. But even more of a worry was their cover. Will it be blown? Would someone find out that they were wildlife officers? The people with which they were dealing had a deep hatred of conservation officers. In their twisted way of thinking, Claude Dallas, who had killed two Idaho Fish and Game officers, was a hero. That weighed heavily on Latham’s mind. Could it happen to them?
As they get in deeper, the uncertainties mount. Do Latham and his partner manage to keep their cover? Do they get the support they need from their superiors? Are the law breakers brought to justice? And, if so, what sort of justice is meted out? You’ll find out in this captivating account.
Amazon.com: More Information or Purchase
Other Links: Tony Latham's Website
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