According to the Seattle Times, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently conducted an investigation into illegal hunting activities that were occurring in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Eight individuals have been charged with 191 criminal counts, 80 of which are for the unlawful hunting of big game. Other offenses that the suspects have been charged with include hunting black bear, cougar, bobcat or lynx with the aid of dogs, and the waste of fish and wildlife. In addition, 33 of the charged offenses are felonies.
Law enforcement first learned of the poachers from Oregon State Patrol officers. A camera that was triggered by motion “captured images of people in a Toyota truck shining a spotlight on national forest land near The Dalles.” The camera caught two people “getting out of the truck with rifles and headlamps.” The men were suspected of “spotlighting” which is “an illegal method of hunting animals whose eyes shine brightly when hit with lights in the dark.” Officers later “found a headless deer carcass in the forest near where the truck was spotted.”
The truck was spotted on the road by the officers a few days later and they pulled the men over. The men admitted that they had “killed two bucks and a silver-gray squirrel” and then taken the heads of the deer back to Washington. It was at this point that Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife became involved in the case. Officers from the department went to the home of one of the men and conducted a search, which resulted in the recovery of more deer heads as well as antlers. In addition, the suspects' phones were seized and searched.
It's these phones that have yielded a great deal of evidence. According to the Seattle Times, “[o]ver nearly nine months, investigators stitched together hundreds of text messages, videos, photographs and social-media posts to develop this case.” The photos and videos on the phones had GPS coordinates attached to them which “led to dozens of kill sites where police say physical evidence could be found to corroborate charges.” For example, using GPS coordinates investigators looked for a location where the poachers had killed a bear. They found the site and recovered evidence including a shotgun shell. The shell was particularly important as it threw into doubt a story the suspects had told, that they had only let their dogs chase the bear up the tree but had not killed it.
The motivations the poachers had for their actions is unclear as they didn't often take the meat or hides with them. Officers have questioned if the suspects may have fueled by the “culture of selfie sticks and social media,” possibly driven by the photos and videos they acquired rather than physical souvenirs.
If you have been charged with a crime in Washington, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today.