Pierce County case shows difficulty of catching poachers

2:38 pm September 6th, 2013

By Bob Brown
No state has enough wildlife enforcement officers to curtail poaching, and Washington is no exception. Although those officers try hard, the greatest difficulty in stopping poaching is apprehending the violator or violators. Most of the time it takes a fantastic number of hours of waiting and patrolling to catch a single poacher.
Sometimes the effort is not successful. Sometimes it is. Case in point:
In early winter of 2011, Pierce County fish and wildlife officers were given anonymous information regarding elk poaching on private timber land. The information was two males had a campsite several miles inside the timber land and were poaching elk and other animals. The reporting party also stated both males lived over a hundred miles away from the campsite and poached elk at night. A vehicle description and possible names were also given.
Due to heavy snow fall, officers had to wait until late spring in 2012 to hike into the area. After making several treks into the area, the campsite was finally located in early summer. The camp site was photographed and surveillance equipment installed so officers could establish the poacher’s patterns.
Prior to opening day of archery elk season, officers returned to the camp site and observed it had been stocked and was being used by the two subjects. Surveillance equipment showed the subjects were entering the private property at night.
Just prior to opening day of archery elk season, information was obtained that one of the subjects was going to the campsite to hunt elk. Detachment officers combined their information and put together a plan to monitor the area.
On opening day of archery season, one of the subject’s vehicles was observed parked on a forest road. Two officers set up surveillance and watched the vehicle. Two additional officers arrived at midnight to assist. One of the officers positioned himself in the woods near the private company’s gate on which was posted “No Trespassing.” At approximately 1:30 a.m., a motorcycle was heard heading toward the gate. Arriving at the gate, the subject got off his motorcycle and stood still for a couple of minutes, looking around and listening as if something was not right, A large set of elk antlers and two garbage bags were observed attached to the motorcycle. Unloading the antlers and garbage bags, the subject placed them on the opposite side of the gate, then laid his motorcycle on its side and, pulled it under the gate. Using a tree branch he swept away his tracks around the gate, then got back on his motorcycle and headed towards his vehicle.
After the subject left, the officer came out of the bush and radioed the officers watching the vehicle that the subject was headed in their direction. He then checked an elk rack attached to the skull plate and two large garbage bags hidden in the ferns. The bags were tied, so he felt the bags, which appeared to be full of meat. A compound bow was also found near the bags.
About this time, the officer was notified the subject was heading back to his location. Hiding back in the bush, the officer watched the subject load the garbage bags, elk antlers and bow into the truck and again with a tree branch swept the area. He then got in his vehicle and left the area.
A decision was made to let the subject go and obtain a search warrant for his residence, which was duly issued. The following morning, Karelian Bear Dogs (KBD) and their handlers hiked into the area of the camp site and found the remains of the elk.
Two days after the warrant was signed, it was learned the second subject was going to the campsite. The previousl plan used to monitor the first subject was then initiated. Early the following day the subject’s vehicle was observed parked at the same location. That evening an officer again took cover in the bush next to the timber company’s gate and waited.
At approximately 1:45 a.m., two sets of motorcycle lights approached the gate where the two subjects unloaded a 5 X5 elk rack and two garbage bags. They then placed the items under ferns next to the road on the opposite side of the gate and pulled their motorcycles under the gate. After sweeping the area with a tree branch, they left and headed toward their vehicle. Returning to the gate with their vehicle, the subjects loaded the elk rack and garbage bags and left the area. As they approached a wide section of the highway they were stopped by enforcement officers and both were arrested.
Both subjects were booked into Pierce County Jail. Their vehicle, two motorcycles and hunting equipment were seized for forfeiture. Both subjects admitted killing the elk, but did not think it was illegal. They stated they hunted and moved at night because there was less people and less chance of being seen. They also stated they camouflaged their motorcycles and covered the license plates so they could not be identified.
Both subjects had been previously issued citations for criminal trespass second degree for being on the same property without permission.
Prior to July 2012, hunters who were contacted while trespassing would have been issued a citation for trespassing second degree. Officers were not able to seize the animal or hunting equipment as long as the hunter was hunting during a lawful season and possessed a valid license and tag.
In 2012, the Legislature passes a law Unlawfully Hunting While Trespassing that allowed officers to seize the animal or animals and hunting equipment. The two subjects were the first in Washington to be arrested and charged under the new law.
When the first subject’s residence was searched, an elk rack was found, plus elk meat, compound bow and two frozen raptors. A second elk was later found at the campsite.
Both subjects were charged with unlawful hunting while trespassing, three counts of criminal trespass second degree, and one count each for unlawful waste of fish and wildlife. One of the subjects was also charged with two counts of taking protected wildlife. If convicted both subjects will also be assessed $6,000 fines for illegally taking a trophy animal, in addition to other court-ordered monetary penalties.

Outdoors writer Bob Brown lives in Roy. He can be reached at robertb1285

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