ODFW pushes to spread awareness of poaching

These hunting trophies were found in the possession of three men charged with poaching 27 big game animals across Lincoln, Benton, Lane, Linn, Polk and Tillamook counties. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police)

OREGON — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has been working with law enforcement to publicize more poaching incidents this year in order to raise awareness of the statewide issue.

Yvonne Shaw, ODFW Stop Poaching campaign coordinator, said the 2019 state legislature approved funding for an advertising and education program to help get the word out. 

Shaw has been spearheading the effort to get these stories told and has been working closely with the Oregon Hunters Association and Defenders of Wildlife to do so.

“In the past, we just haven’t told the story of the poaching that’s been happening in Oregon, and now we are,” Shaw said. “It’s been an ongoing issue for years, and finally this is the opportunity to tell the stories that have been playing out in Oregon’s forests, fields and waterways.”

Shaw said there’s growing concern for animal populations like mule deer in the state, with a study in recent years from southeastern Oregon showing that illegal poaching in the area exceeded the state’s legal take and that the amount of doe killed were significantly impacting the population.

Shaw added the scope of the program goes beyond just big game, like elk and deer, which is what most people think of when they envision poaching. It also includes everything from small game to fish and crab on the coast.

“We want to increase detection and prosecution of these crimes,” Shaw said. “Detection means educating the public on what poaching looks like and empowering them to help report it. The prosecution part added a roving district attorney to travel the state to help prosecute these crimes since they’re handled a little differently than most.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting this year, funding for the program was cut in favor of other legislation, but Shaw’s position will be retained for the time being, and she hopes further funding will come through when the pandemic is under control.

“We’re hoping to get at least some back next session,” Shaw said. “We don’t have definitive numbers yet, but we’ve been making great strides in reporting and prosecuting these crimes. I expect the amount of tip callers from this year will be way up.”

OSP compiles and reports statewide information early the following year, and Shaw expects a more detailed report on the program’s impact after January. Until then, she encourages everyone to remain aware of the ongoing issue and utilize the state TIP (Turn In Poachers) program hotline to report suspicious activity.

“One thing you need to remember is that when a poacher kills a deer, a fish, an eagle or something else, they’re not just removing it from its habitat. They’re taking that away from someone else, whether that’s from another hunter’s table, someone’s photograph or just an encounter while hiking,” Shaw said. 

More information can be found on the ODFW’s website at www.dfw.state.or.us.

Local incidents

Oregon State Police Sgt. Greg Plummer manages a large area in the northwest part of the state that includes Lincoln County. He hasn’t noticed more criminal incidents than usual this year, but did note there was an increase in reported accidental violations.

“We’ve seen a lot of mistakes this year,” Plummer said. “A lot of animals hit the ground that shouldn’t have. For example, some seasons are spike only — some see an elk they think is a spike and instead shoot a branch bull. Or they try shooting at a spike in a herd that’s clustered together and end up shooting a cow.”

Plummer said there were so many animals killed by mistake this year that OSP ran out of places in the area to donate the meat to and ended up sending it to Salem instead. He estimates there were about 19 incidents total from Astoria to Newport.

When it comes to criminal activity however, Plummer does credit the state’s TIP hotline as one of his department’s best sources of information when catching poachers.

“Off season tips have been great. It helped us in elk season, in deer season, with fishing complaints — it’s been a great program,” Plummer said. “There’s so many people out there with extra sets of eyes and who have been upset about what they’ve been seeing.”

Plummer recalled an incident where someone had just illegally killed an elk, taken it home and had begun processing it in their garage. He said if someone hadn’t reported it in such a timely manner, OSP likely would have never known.

One of the largest poaching busts in the state saw three men convicted of killing 27 large game animals across Lincoln, Benton, Lane, Linn, Polk and Tillamook counties.

 “There is a fair amount of poaching in this area, and we find it in a variety of ways,” Plummer said. “There’s the TIP program, but we have an aircraft patrol at night that can guide us into people on the ground shining lights out into the woods. We have decoys that are regularly hit by shooters as well.”

He said violations often vary from hunting out of season or without the appropriate tags to hunting during restricted hours.

Plummer added that submitting tips also comes with incentives in the form of cash rewards or hunting preference points.

“If someone were to report an elk case, for example, and it leads to us charging someone, they could get a $500 cash reward or up to four preference points,” Plummer said. “Some hunts in the state are hard to get and some only have 20 tags. If you get more preference points, you have a better chance.”

While illegally hunting deer and elk are some of the highest rewarded and most commonly reported violations, Plummer said reporting things like bear and cougars kills, crab and fish poaching or even habitat destruction like littering also fall under the umbrella of the TIP program and can be rewarded.

For those looking to report what they think is a violation, Plummer had several pieces of advice. 

If it can be done safely, always try to identify vehicles involved to the best of your ability. Reporting color, license plate and the direction of travel is usually the best bet in helping OSP identify a vehicle, though even general information is also helpful.

Easily identified suspicious activity includes shining lights into clearcuts, being in restricted areas or wearing hunting gear outside the appropriate timeframe.

“We’ll really go up to bat for people who call in to get them the reward,” Plummer said. “Usually if the information does help us find and charge someone, we can get it to them.”

Anyone with information regarding a fishing or game violation can contact the TIP program at 1-800-452-7888 or [email protected]

Poaching at sea

While most might envision poaching incidents mainly occurring on land, the issue is just as prevalent in the state’s waterways and coastline.

Individuals from Lincoln County were involved in a major poaching bust this year. According to a September press release from ODFW, two men from Astoria were caught setting stolen crab traps in the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve and prosecuted.

A researcher first encountered a line of illegal traps in the area in early April that OSP later identified as being stolen from seven different commercial crabbers from Astoria to Newport who were able to show up and reclaim their gear.

In May, another line of illegal traps was identified in the marine reserve, and OSP officers were able to mark several legal crabs trapped inside to later help trace back to a boat. After several months of investigation, a Clatsop County Grand Jury indicted Scott Edward Giles, 39, and Travis Richard Westerlund, 34, in August. 

Giles, captain of the F/V The Baranof, faced 14 criminal charges including theft, criminal mischief, unlawful take, fishing prohibited methods and fishing prohibited area. The stolen gear in his possession increased his crimes to felony theft. Westerlund, a deckhand on The Baranof, faced 12 similar criminal charges.

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