An extensive poaching ring is responsible for slaughtering more than 100 black bears, cougars, bobcats, deer and elk in southwestern Washington state and northwestern Oregon, with many of the animals hunted with dogs and then left to rot, authorities say.
"There was an absolute wanton disregard for our conservation laws," Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Captain Jeff Wickersham said Friday.
Seven people — six adults, some of whom have previously been targeted in poaching investigations, and one juvenile — have been charged so far, but investigators plan to recommend charges against more people, he said. Some face upward of 60 counts related to illegal hunting and wasting animals.
The investigation was reported this week by The Chronicle newspaper of Centralia, Washington, which said it had obtained hundreds of pages of case reports from the department through a public records request.
According to the documents, the hunters often used dogs, sometimes as many as 11. The 50-plus poaching expeditions date to 2015. The vast majority took place within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, often in remote areas either closed to hunting or in areas where special permits are required.
The Associated Press could not immediately locate contact information for the defendants, and it was not immediately clear whether any had obtained lawyers. Several were scheduled to make initial court appearances later this month.
The investigation began with Oregon State Police troopers who were looking into poaching in The Dalles, charging papers filed in Skamania County Superior Court say. Last December, the troopers contacted and interviewed two Longview, Washington, men, William Haynes and Erik Martin, who, the troopers said, confessed to illegally killing deer in Oregon and bringing their heads and antlers back to Washington.
The troopers contacted authorities in Washington, who recovered 27 deer heads and a bull elk unlawfully possessed by Haynes and a co-defendant, the charging papers say.
In executing search warrants for the suspects' cellphones, the documents say, investigators found pictures, text messages and videos linking several other people to the poaching.
In several cases, Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Brad Rhoden said, agents were able to use the location services on the phone to travel to where photos had been taken of the defendants posing with their kills. When they got there, they discovered the animals' remains, with intact skeletons.
"The bears really suffered the brunt of this," Rhoden said Friday. "They were just killed and left."