Editor’s Note: The following story is the latest in a series of articles detailing a massive poaching operation uncovered in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon. It comes after a records request that yielded hundreds of pages of evidence collected by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

Members of a prolific local wildlife poaching ring often treated their sordid endeavors as a familial bonding experience of sorts. Fathers and sons shared credit for illegal kills. Boyfriends brought their girlfriends along and showed them how to kill big game out of season and with the illegal help of hunting hounds. 

In a number of cases, juvenile relatives were even brought along into the backwoods and allowed to not only observe, but take part in the unfettered, unethical killings of deer, elk, black bears, bobcats and cougars. 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently wrapped up the first leg of its investigation into the poaching and recommended seven people for more than 200 charges to the Skamania County prosecutor. It is unclear how many of those charges and suspects will wind up being prosecuted in court, but the mountain of evidence compiled by the WDFW is staggering. The WDFW says it has identified more than 10 suspects in total and expects additional charges to emerge from their cases as time goes on. For now though, the focus is on bringing justice to the most avid participants in the poaching activities that the WDFW says occurred between August 2015 and February 2017.

So far, at least 35 documented poaching trips have been submitted as evidence to support charges against the suspected poachers. In all, law enforcement officials believe the affiliated group of poachers could be responsible for the illegal killing of more than 100 animals, many of which were left behind to rot either fully intact or with just their trophy parts removed. The individuals facing charges at this time include Joseph Dills, 30, of Longview; Eddy Dills, 57, of Longview; William Haynes, 23, of Longview; Erik Christian Martin, 23, of Longview; and Bryan C. Tretiak, 31, of Morton. Aubri (Larsen) McKenna, 35, of Longview, and Sierra Dills, 17, of Longview, have also been referred for misdemeanor charges in Skamania County.

This isn’t the first time in hot water for several of the poaching suspects. 

 

Joseph Dills, who now faces up to 64 charges, including four for first-degree unlawful big game hunting for the illegal use of dogs, pleaded guilty in Wahkiakum County District Court in 2008 to second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and second-degree criminal trespassing. Those decade-old convictions resulted from his involvement with the so-called “Kill ‘Em All Boyz,” another poaching ring based out of Cowlitz County. The ringleader of that group, Mike Gordon, was a nurse at Providence Centralia Hospital at the time and received a 13-month prison sentence for his violations.

During those criminal proceedings, Joseph Dills agreed to an interview with The Daily News of Longview and downplayed the severity of the actions of the group, insisting that Gordon bragged to an undercover WDFW agent about incidents that didn't actually take place.

“I’m not saying that we didn’t commit the crimes. But it was made to look like we were really, really bad people, and we’re not that way,” Dills told The Daily News at the time.

Ten years later and Dills finds himself at the center of controversy again, and this time he will likely be flanked by family and friends alike at the defendants table. That list of defendants will include his father Eddy Dills, who is accused of using his special access to Takhlakh Lake Campground to facilitate the illegal hunts deep in the heart of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest between Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. 

Investigative reports by the WDFW insist that Eddy Dills worked for Hoodoo Recreation as the campground host at Takhlakh Lake during the summers of 2015 and 2016 and that photographic evidence shows that he used his company-issued vehicle, complete with the Hoodoo Recreation emblem, to undertake numerous poaching excursions within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A text message sent from Joseph Dills to William Haynes on March 31, 2016, seems to support that assertion. In that text message, Dills wrote, “My dad is gonna do that camp hosting again this year. He’ll be (at) Horseshoe or Takalak (sic). You ready for that again? All that death and caos? (sic)”

A text reply from Haynes’ cellphone read, “Oh f*** yeah. My dad said he wants to bring his trailer up there too this year.”

However, Hoodoo Recreation, which contracts with the U.S. Forest Service to bring services to campgrounds within national forests in Washington and Oregon, told The Chronicle that Eddy Dills was never an official employee. Instead, the company said that Eddy Dills’ wife, Angie Dills, was the person hired as campground host at Takhlakh Lake. Regardless, Kaly Harward, general manager of Hoodoo Recreation, admits that Eddy Dills was a regular presence at the campground and noted that there were several complaints against the couple on the books before Angie Dills was ultimately fired by Hoodoo Recreation earlier this summer.

Hoodoo Recreation representatives noted that a confrontation between the couple and a Forest Service employee in the summer of 2016 led to the Forest Service requesting that they be removed as campground hosts at Takhlakh Lake. Hoodoo responded to that request by moving Angie Dills to the Bumping Lake Campground northeast of Packwood. Things didn’t pan out for the pair there either.

“We received a complaint in about mid-July, in part because she was having Eddy in the campground and he was causing problems so we asked him to leave,” noted Harward. “When they became violent with one of our employees we called the sheriff.”

Harward noted that Angie Dills was permanently let go by Hoodoo around the beginning of August.

Harward said that while Hoodoo was aware that Eddy Dills was an avid hunter who owned a pack of hound dogs, the company had never heard allegations, or even rumors, of poaching activity emanating from their campgrounds.

“The only thing that I had every heard about poaching is a Forest Service employee said, ‘Well you know they have hounds and the only reason people in the mountains have hounds is for poaching,’” recalled Harward, who then asked for evidence of the misdeeds but was not provided with any. 

“I can’t remove an employee on a stereotype,” reasoned Harward.

Harward said he wishes that law enforcement would have contacted his company during the investigation in order to alert them to their suspicions. 

“My wish is that at some point during this investigation somebody from one of these institutions would have reached out to us and we would have removed them instantly. We take pride in being a steward of the forest and following the rules and following the law and providing the best atmosphere that we can,” said Harward.

 

The investigation into big game poaching in Washington’s wildlands actually began in Oregon, and the lynchpin to the whole house of cards was the illegal killing of a silver gray squirrel near The Dalles in November 2016. Wildlife officials in Oregon began receiving reports of poaching activities during the months of November and December in the area south of The Dalles in the evening shadow of Mount Hood. In an effort to figure out who was poaching buck deer and leaving their bodies behind to waste, law enforcement set up motion sensor trail cameras that eventually captured images of a truck belonging to one of the suspects making stops in the area in the wee hours of the morning and exiting the vehicle with spotlights and rifles on Nov. 30. Upon visiting the site, troopers found a deer carcass in the direction the individuals had walked off into the forest as well as deer hair near where the truck had been parked in the photo. 

On Dec. 3, Oregon State Patrol officers on regular patrol observed the truck in The Dalles and executed a traffic stop. Erik Martin and William Haynes were inside the vehicle.

When asked about their involvement in the poaching incident on Nov. 30, both Haynes and Martin confessed to poaching two buck deer and a silver gray squirrel on that day. Haynes and Martin then agreed to have their cellphones searched by law enforcement. That’s when the full depth of their alleged depravity began to come into focus thanks to an extensive log of videos and photographs that showed dozens of illegal hunting expeditions in Oregon and Washington. 

The WDFW was called to help with the investigation in Washington. That evening, a total of 20 unlawfully harvested deer heads, and one silver gray squirrel, were found by law enforcement at the residences of Martin and Haynes.

From that point, the testimony of Haynes, and the contents of both his and Martin’s phones, provided nearly all of the details wildlife officials needed to start connecting pieces of the vast poaching puzzle. Their phones contained a trove of data including phone records, text messages, photographs, videos and metadata, which allowed investigators to pinpoint the location of videos and photographs using GPS triangulation.

That oversight by the poachers to leave their location settings enabled on their phones was key to the investigation, said WDFW Sgt. Dan Rhoden, who noted that the suspects used an extensive knowledge of forest back roads to avoid detection during their killing sprees. 

“They go up one way and they come out another and they’re jumping all around,” said Rhoden. “It’s easy for them to come in one way and go out another and jump around like that.” 

 

During the investigation, WDFW police noted that U.S. Highway 12 in Lewis County was regularly used to access Forest Service roads that led to their favorite poaching grounds. The forest roads heading south out of Randle were noted as a particularly popular spot for the poachers to track and kill black bears with the illegal assistance of dogs.

In a statement provided to WDFW police officer Denis Budai by Haynes, he described how the group would regularly employ dogs to flush wildlife out of their preferred hiding places. Hunting bears, bobcats and cougars with dogs is illegal in Washington. Cats can be hunted with dogs in Oregon, but hunters must possess a furbearers license and report their harvest to state officials. None of the members of the poaching group possessed such a license.

“He indicated they drive around in trucks with dogs at the front of the truck and the dog box. He said the dogs then strike off the truck (pursue an animal). He said they usually take two or three trucks and they use radios to communicate between vehicles,” wrote Officer Budai.

Haynes also noted that the dogs were outfitted with GPS-equipped collars that allowed their owners to track their movements through the forest and ultimately find the animal that they’d been chasing. In one video obtained by the WDFW from Haynes’ cellphone, at least 11 dogs can be seen chewing on a bear that had been shot out of a tree in East Lewis County near Forest Service Road 2164. WDFW investigators were unable to tell if the bear was dead before the dogs began to tear it apart.

Haynes is currently looking at 61 charges that have been recommended by the WDFW, including 26 charges of first-degree illegal hunting of big game. He was previously convicted of second-degree unlawful hunting big game in Cowlitz County on October 3, 2013, which means that the new big game charges could be considered Class C felonies that carry a penalty of up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Martin does not have any previous wildlife related convictions but is currently looking at 28 charges of gross misdemeanor violations.

 

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(7) comments

pmc

These people are disgusting and cruel. I hope they suffer to the greatest extent of the law possible

Libby888

This group has proven that they cannot be trusted to hunt per the laws of the land and as well they have a blood thirst to destroy nature's beautiful animals without a
care to how terribly they die - it's simply "fun" for them to murder wildlife. Just like serial killers, they thrill kill and then dump the bodies, mutilating them, torturing them and encouraging their dogs to tear the animals up. As I said in a prior comment to yesterday's update on this case, anyone who owns hound dogs should be suspect as poachers - this is not "profiling" this is FACT. I'm SO sick and tired of this worry we have in our society of "profiling" or not being "PC" when it comes down to simply the basics here: IF you own multiple hound dogs then your hunting activity should be closely monitored. IF you are a repeat offender for this type of hunting abuse and wildlife waste then the jail times and fines should be stiff. Getting "up to" 5 years in prison for a REPEAT offender is nothing~! That means that the first offense penalty was akin to being whipped by a wet kleenex.....thus useless to deter a 2nd offense. We taxpayers want to enjoy our wildlife and be safe in our public lands. These poachers endanger people who might be out camping or hiking in non-hunting season, when it should be safe to
be out in nature - what if they had shot a person while out on one of their coordinate hunts? Would the politicians care then? Why does it take such a mountain of evidence to be needed to prosecute these criminals? And WHY are the penalties and fines so weightless in light of the criminal acts committed? Why are animals not protected effectively from people like this? How could this range of hunting go on for so long - it had to be obvious unless no one of course was looking or checking, which seems to be the case. We need more game wardens on the job - many more - as these animals are encroached by man in every manner and thus deserve dedicated protection. In the end, if 1 or 2 of this deadly team of poachers spends any jail time I'll be surprised, plus they are NOT going to stop - they will do this all their lives, guaranteed. Murderers never stop killing.

rbridges54

hoodoo.com did know about these guys know for a fact cause they told a camp host about it said they ran bear thur Takhlakh Lake campground her name is Lori She hosts Walupt Lake

tadperry

Libby888, it's so refreshing to see someone say it like it is and reject typical PC thinking, but I can one up you. Animals have feelings. And especially mammals have all the same emotions as people. Anyone who knows animals knows this. Look at dogs. Look at cows. Look at deers. Some animals like bears (or even cats) have a different kind of emotional make-up because bears for instance do not seem to have much fear of anything. But my point is that some of these animals are in terror when the hound dogs are after them, and my next point is that as terrible as I will sound for saying it, these men may deserve even worse punishment than you suggest. They themselves deserve to be hunted and killed, so they can experience the terror they force upon other animals. And if that was the punishment in our PC world, where the death penalty is always wrong, I have a feeling this practice would really come to an end and there would rarely ever be a need to hunt down a person anyway. This is just my feeling about it because I love animals so very deeply. For those that think I'm absolutely terrible for saying it, I just strongly feel these people should be completely removed from society. On that we agree. Life in jail without any possibility of parole works, too. And maybe that is a better solution in the end, but part of me doesn't even want them passing their genes on in a conjugal visit. That's how strongly I feel about it. But it still seems like the death penalty would be the greater deterrent, because some whack-job might think he can hunt down animals until he's caught and given free room and board for life. I tend to debate with myself and this is all stream of consciousness, so now I'm thinking, well, prisoners of all kinds should not be allowed to just sit watching tv and playing ping-pong all the time, nor should they be confined to isolation. After all isolation is even worse then death. That's proven by the fact that we actively prevent such prisoners from killing themselves because the chance of them attempting it is so high. So, maybe the very best thing to do would be to put these guys on chain gang type work crews and make them plant trees to give back to the nature they have helped destroy. Okay, that's my final answer. Life imprisonment working to give those same animals a better place to live.

seabeckgayle

Thank you so much for the information provided in this article. If Fish and Wildlife don't share this with the public, how would we ever know the horrible extent of these people. I hope as many go to jail as possible, and that their guns be removed from their possession. 5 years doesn't seem like enough...

Cinebarbarian

If the WDFW is willing to dig deep enough, I'm betting these guys had timber company keys to get past all the locked gates above Randle and Riffe Lake. You hear hounds running game on the south side of Riffe lake every time we're out in a boat, and that's behind locked gates.

Tom455667

Poaching also probably affects the whole Olympic Peninsula where, for a National Park, there is a severe lack of animals (compared to the other large ones). But I traveled all over the back dirt roads (on the West side) and not once found any such activity or heard shots indicating so. However, because of the extensive system of locked forest roads and employees (old & current) with pass keys, it's a known fact that they open the gates for personal use. On many gates, some privately owned by companies like Rayonier, folks have cut paths around the gates, or built ramps around in order to get at this prime country. However, even if reported, the gates or the go-arounds are not always fixed. One time I walked 2-3 miles into a patch of forest not accessible by vehicle only to have a lady with a kid in an SUV drive right by me. Who knows what she was up to, but it probably was not legal. Those keys have to be changed. However, this is (spotted-owl country) a deep poverty area and also an area that knows about thriftiness and how to survive bad economic times. The Great Recession was just more evidence that the government is a big pyramid scheme. However, folks who have lived on the land for a long, long time generally know where the herds are and when is the best time to harvest some for great tasting & fatty meat (it's not the Fall time when the bucks' meat turns a little sour from the Rut). So, for a kid or man to poach the herd ahead of time and spook them off, will usually anger the people. They count of the herd and knowing where it's at in case bad times arrive. Any idiot can go out at night and shine a field & get a trophy buck. But that person should also be banished or put into jail with fines. And the only kind of Hunter admired by the people is the one who shares his kill first with the Elders and then the families. Getting the trophy bucks, backstrap steaks & lots of pictures of kills is not the way - it's better to legally get a fat doe and share the precious fatty meat cuts with the old folks that need that dense nutrition. Drinking the fresh blood will also help the health of sick ones. In sum, this meaningless destruction of animals is madness. If I ever see anything illegal like this, even a small thing, I'll report it the same day. Lock them up.

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