Wildlife officials in Washington and Oregon have uncovered a mountain of evidence that shows a poaching ring has been violating hunting regulations and indiscriminately killing wildlife for several years.
More than 20 search warrants were issued and 10 suspects identified in an investigation that began in December after Oregon State Troopers discovered headless bucks on numerous trails, according to KPTV and The Daily News in Longview, Washington.
Evidence in the form of graphic video and photos are at the center of the investigation, as KPTV reports (warning: some might consider the footage disturbing):
“These individuals involved with this case are what I would term the worst of the worst,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 5 Captain Jeff Wickersham told KPTV.
More than 100 animals, including deer, bear and a cougar, were poached by the perpetrators.
More than 25 deer and elk skulls were discovered at the homes of the men and were confiscated along with cellphones that held evidence pointing to “a complex web of poachers working together and living in Cowlitz County,” KPTV reported.
Photos from the suspect’s phones include images of 26 deer heads and sets of antlers, graphic and grisly photos of dogs attacking bears, and multiple bear, wildcat and deer carcasses, Wickersham said.
Using dogs to hunt black bear, cougar, bobcat or lynx is illegal in Washington and Oregon.
Videos obtained and shared by WDFW don’t show the faces of any suspects. But in one video, a man can be heard shouting “Come on boys, get him!” as several hounds surround what appears to be a black bear.
Another video shows a poacher aiming a rifle at a cornered bear at close range and firing. After the bear falls, up to eight hunting dogs descend on the bear, biting and ripping it apart.
“I consider it a killing spree,” Deputy Chief Mike Cenci of the WDFW told KPTV. “I’m completely disgusted. These people are wholesale natural resource murderers.
“Disrespect for the law is one thing. When you see how they disrespect the animals themselves, that’s not hunting.”
Two of the suspects were caught in the act by hidden cameras placed on trails by Oregon State Troopers after finding the headless bucks in December.
“It just kept growing,” Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Lieutenant Ryan Howell told KPTV. “The offenses, not only did they occur in The Dalles, they were all over the state of Oregon and Washington.
“This was something that was going on a long time, and something that would continue if we didn’t loop in Washington.”
Now, the investigation is close to being wrapped up.
“There’s a great deal of evidence; officers have been sorting through that,” Deputy WDFW Chief Mike Cenci told The Daily News. “And once that is completed, then it’s off to the prosecutors office.”
WDFW Region 5 Captain Jeff Wickersham told The Daily News that this is likely the largest poaching ring of its kind in Washington and Oregon.
“I’ve never seen anything like this and neither have any of the officers or detectives on this case,” he said. “None of us have ever seen anything to a scale like this.”