Sunderhaus: wildlife law enforcer deluxe

By: Steve Pollick
The Toledo Blade

Oct 31, 2006

Terry Sunderhaus, wildlife law enforcement supervisor for northwest Ohio, has faced a lot of dicey assigments in a 35 1/2-year career, but none is harder for him than the one he faces today – retirement.
“The toughest part is walking away from what I consider family,” said the game lawman, a burly, brush-cut type who looks the part. “I’m going to miss that a lot. But I’ll have more time to hunt and fish and I’m going to do that.”

Sunderhaus, 55, who looks much more at ease in an undercover outfit of old boots, jeans, and flannel shirt than in a suit, has matured with the Ohio Division of Wildlife even as the division has matured.
“We now have a very successful undercover unit and that’s just great. Back then we were running on a shoestring,” he states, recalling his early days in covert operations aimed at catching fish and game poachers.

Undercover agents then had to scramble for equipment, beg and borrow places to stay, find ways to keep gas in the tank, and work ungodly hours. “[But] we did it for the resource and I’m proud of it.”
Sunderhaus actually began his career with the Division of Parks and Recreation, a sister agency to the Division of Wildlife in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

He started out as a ranger at Grand Lake St. MarysState Park in Mercer County, working up to the post of chief ranger. In 1980 he entered training to become a game protector (now called wildlife officer) in the wildlife division, “and I’ve been there ever since. They have been the absolute best years of my life.”
His first assignment in the Thin Green Line – fish and game lawmen usually work alone in remote or rural areas – was Sandusky County, and it provided one of his more colorful career tales.

A Fremont man tried to smuggle home a black bear cub from Canada, hiding it in a metal lard tub. But a neighbor saw him unloading it from the back of his pickup truck, tipped off Sunderhaus, and the late Fremont Municipal Judge Paul Albrechta convicted the man of bear smuggling.
Not long after that, the lawman recalls one morning when he was making walleye cases in the Albrechta court, then went home, changed clothes, and spruced up a mite. “I came back to court and the good judge married my good wife [Pam] and I.”

Sunderhaus was promoted to the rank of wildlife officer supervisor/investigator around 1984 and was in charge of game protectors in several counties until 1990, when he achieved the rank he holds through today, law enforcement supervisor for the 20-county Wildlife District 2, which is based at Findlay.
“First of all,” Sunderhaus said, beginning a long, colorful narrative of his time in the traces, “the Division of Wildlife is so unique. You have a small number of people and a big job. In my estimation it is the premier division of the Department of Natural Resources, as well as the premier fish and game agency in the United States.”

The lawman knows he is prejudiced a bit when he says that, but on the other hand he has dealt with almost every other such agency in the country during his tenure. “It’s been a success story,” he said of the division’s growth and development, citing both its work with fish and game species and nongame species and providing opportunities for the public in addition to hunters, trappers, and anglers.
“Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, paddlefish – you name it and it’s been a success story and I think you can count the law enforcement program in that success story.”

Sunderhaus has made, of course, a lot of less-than-friends in the course of his career, individuals not exactly pleased with being caught in the act. The lawman recalls, for example, the criticism the division received from some quarters about overzealous enforcement in the “Walleyegate” case at the Toledo Water Intake more than 20 years ago.
Sunderhaus was one of two undercover agents involved in investigating what was alleged as the illegal taking of walleye that had wandered from Lake Erie into the intake system at the plant in Jerusalem Township. A dawn raid ensued one Saturday morning and arrests proceeded from there.

“Boy were they surprised,” said Sunderhaus of plant staff involved in the case. But he defended the state action against the city, noting, “we had a search warrant for a city building, signed by a judge. We went in and rang ’em up. My partner and I were there. We saw it. And it was a good case.”
Another time Sunderhaus and Andy Pierce, a special agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, went undercover to break up a huge deer-poaching ring based in Cleveland and killing deer illegally in southern Ohio.

Their infiltration of the ring – which was selling venison on the black market back in Cleveland – was one of the first successful covert cases for the wildlife division.
A similar operation a few years later, Operation Clanbake, had deep ties in the Toledo area, where several individuals were surprised with dawn raids, arrests, equipment seizures, and eventual trips before the judge.

Sunderhaus also worked with Pierce, and his long-time friend and now-retired Ottawa County game protector, Milt “Black Duck” Brent – “and you call him Black Duck.”
They pursued numerous operations against suspected illegal baiting of waterfowl in private club-marshes in Ottawa and Lucas counties.

The baiting cases were funneled through U.S. District Court in Toledo. “I got a Governor’s award for that one,” said Sunderhaus, noting nonetheless that he was able to maintain a relationship with the men he arrested, even after the fines were paid. “I’m still buddies with most of them.”
The fact that he still is invited to various wild game dinners by area hunters and anglers is an indication that Sunderhaus has earned wide respect.

Speaking of which, Sundehaus has plenty for his boss, John Daugherty, District 2 manager, “who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves … because he’s the boss. John is a fine, accomplished hunter and fisherman and he practices what he preaches.
“He respects each one of his supervisors as professionals and allows the latitude to do the job.”

Sunderhaus also has high, parting praise for his secretary, Barb Niese, whom he describes as “the brains of the law enforcement section. She’s helped me a lot in some rough times and she keeps it together.”
Daugherty notes that Sunderhaus “has been in a leadership position for the Division of Wildlife for so long, and not just in District 2.”

The lawman’s advice, experience, and thorough knowledge of fish and game laws and policies have been shared often with other wildlife districts and Columbus headquarters as well, Daugherty said.
“We’re really going to miss that.