THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
Melissa LeRitz, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney, has been named 2022 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year by Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division for her exceptional work prosecuting fish and wildlife crimes.
It is the second time LeRitz has accepted the award, which is made possible by the Oregon Hunter’s Association (OHA) and the Oregon Sportsman’s Conservation Partnership. LeRitz was also named Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year in 2020.
Conservation-minded sportsmen appreciate prosecutors like DDA LeRitz who take poaching cases seriously, according to Duane Dungannon, OHA publisher and state coordinator.
“The fact that she’s the first two-time recipient of this award really underscores her commitment,” according to Dungannon, “Jackson County, where the OHA State Office is based, has produced more than its share of record-book blacktails. Sadly it’s a hot spot for late-season trophy poaching, so we really value the efforts of OSP and local prosecutors who protect our wildlife from poachers.”
LeRitz has a reputation for supporting OSP F&W Troopers as they collect and document evidence and navigate processes crucial to prosecuting fish and wildlife crimes cases.
“DDA LeRitz goes above and beyond to ensure that she is available to our Troopers in the field and has routinely stayed late, come in on days off, and rescheduled hearings to make herself available to us during big cases,” OSP F&W officials said during the July ceremony, “On several different cases she has spent hours and even days with our Troopers preparing for cases and conducting research to ensure that we get the best possible prosecution.”
One such case involved two decaying deer carcasses rotting in a pole barn, and 17 deer heads. Troopers discovered the lead suspect was engaged in unlawful taxidermy practices. A second suspect in the case had illegally killed at least one animal. LeRitz prosecuted the pair for 19 counts of various wildlife crimes, including a felony count of Take/Possession of a Game Mammal due to the number of animals that had been taken in a 12-month period. It was the first illegal taxidermy case LeRitz has prosecuted, and the courts permanently revoked the lead suspect’s hunting license.
Another recent case included navigating a steep ridge to see the location of where a deer had been poached.
“That hike is seared into my memory,” LeRitz said, “It was beneficial to the case for me to see it firsthand – but on the way back, the incline was so steep, Trooper (Cameron) Jamison and I nearly had to crawl due to the elevation. I thought I might not make it back to the truck.”
When LeRitz was initially assigned to prosecute fish and wildlife cases, another DDA told her the OSP F&W Troopers were intense. According to LeRitz, she was contacted by now recently retired Sgt. Jim Collom, asking if she wanted to get coffee.
“He wanted to introduce me to the caseload,” Le Ritz said, “We went to coffee, and he spent nearly two hours just giving me an overview of everything. He truly invested in me. He spent the next 8 years teaching me and passing on his passion for wildlife crimes to me,” she said. “As time went on, I worked closely with the whole team, and they continue teach me something new all the time.”
Wildlife in the state or Oregon is deemed property of the state of Oregon. The regulations are designed to be fair to all hunters and also the natural resources of the state, according to LeRitz.
“Protecting this resource is valuable for a variety of reasons,” she said, “The Oregon outdoors and the wildlife within it belongs to us all. All citizens of the state of Oregon are entitled to enjoy it in all the ways we do, like hiking, hunting, fishing, birdwatching, nature walks, etc. Rules regulating hunting and fishing allow us all to continue to enjoy the Oregon outdoors as a whole, and for years to come.”
OHA President, Steve Hagan, agrees.
“I would like to congratulate Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Melissa LeRitz on being selected Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year for 2022,” Hagan said, “She has a passion both for the outdoors and to seeing those who engage in wildlife crimes being held accountable for their actions.”