Members of a massive poaching operation uncovered by wildlife officials in Washington and Oregon are one step closer to seeing a courtroom after wildlife law enforcement turned over the first chapter of their investigation to the Skamania County prosecutor on Monday.
The case involves an extensive ring of poachers who combined are suspected in the illegal take of hundreds of animals, including deer, elk, bears and cougars, around the region. Photographic evidence shows packs of dogs were sometimes illegally deployed to corner animals and were then allowed to tear at the flesh of the dead or dying wildlife. Most of the poached animals were left behind mostly intact, often with only their trophy parts removed.
Authorities were first tipped off to the activities when hikers reported finding decapitated deer along a popular path in Oregon. Suspects were eventually identified by the use of a trail camera. Further investigation uncovered a coordinated ring of poachers who were undertaking their sordid activities deep in the backwoods of numerous counties in Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon.
On Monday, the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office forwarded documents to District Court and five people were designated for charges:
• Bryan Christopher Tretiak, of Morton, faces the potential of four counts of second-degree illegal hunting big game, four counts of illegal hunting with the aid of dogs, one count of waste of fish and wildlife worth $250 or more, and one count of first-degree illegal hunting big game. His first court appearance is set for 9 a.m. on Sept. 14.
• Erik Christian Martin will face nine counts of second-degree illegal hunting big game, 12 counts of illegal hunting with the aid of dogs, four counts of waste of fish and wildlife and three counts of first-degree illegal hunting big game. His first court appearance is set for Sept. 28 at 9 a.m.
• Eddy Alvin Dills, of Longview, is facing five counts of second-degree illegal hunting big game, four counts of illegal hunting with the aid of dogs, two counts of waste of fish and wildlife worth $250 or more, and one count of first-degree illegal hunting of big game. His court date has not been set yet.
• Joseph Allen Dills, of Longview, was designated for unspecified charges. According to The Daily News, Dills pleaded guilty in Wahkiakum County District Court in 2008 on charges of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game and second-degree criminal trespass and was sentenced to three months in jail, $1,540 fines and two years probation. A court date for Dills in the latest case has not yet been set.
• William J. Haynes, of Longview, was also designated for unspecified charges. A court date has not been yet been set for him.
According to a clerk for the Skamania County Prosecutor’s Office, specific charges for Joseph Dill and William Haynes are expected to be finalized soon.
The quantity of evidence unearthed by the WDFW, which was handed over to the prosecutor last week, has been cited for delays in processing of charges. That mountain of evidence, compiled during a multi-year investigation, proved laborious for the WDFW as well. They first served search warrants in March and then worked to connect a large list of suspects to a laundry list of known poaching offenses spread over numerous counties in two states. Originally the WDFW, which announced its investigation in May, had hoped to have their part of the case wrapped up and handed over to the prosecutor by Aug. 1. At one time, the case was also thought to be headed to Cowlitz County, where most of the suspects are from. However, the evidence wound up taking longer to process and the decision was made to move the case to Skamania County, where many of the poaching activities occurred.
WDFW Police Captain Jeff Wickersham noted that one case report came in at over 200 pages, and the compiled evidence includes videos, maps, images and text messages.
“One thing that these individuals did, either by accident or they just weren’t thinking, is they left their location mode on their phone,” said Wickersham.
That GPS data helped investigators to connect suspects to specific violations and locations that criss-crossed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and spread to areas as far away as The Dalles, Oregon.
WDFW Sargent Brad Rhoden says that the poaching ring used the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as a home base of sorts, driving in one way and popping out in another county on some other set or backroads.
“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.”
He noted that a lot of bears were killed by the group in the local area as well as numerous elk in Cowlitz County.
Rhoden added that this is likely just the first round of charges that will arise from the ongoing WDFW investigation. He said that additional suspects are likely to be recommended for charges at a later date. WDFW officials have suggested the investigation could be wrapped up at any time with charges coming sometime in September.
“Some people don’t know that we’re after them yet,” said Rhoden, who is happy to envision the end of a lengthy and disturbing investigation.
“It’s good to have a completed report and see that the work the officers put into it really paid off because they were really able to identify some gross violations against our natural resources,” said Rhoden.