By The (Centralia) Chronicle Editorial Board
We respect the men and women who act as police for the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife. We have no doubt most officers are working as hard as they can with fewer resources than they need to effectively do their jobs.
Recent events, however, create questions about the priorities of the agency.
Earlier this month, acting on a single tip and their brief observations, Fish and Wildlife officers raided the property of For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue in Rochester, and seized three deer fawns and a young elk, all of which were euthanized. The agency said the animals had become too “habituated,” that their upbringing at the hands of owners Claudia and David Supensky had made them too accustomed to humans to be released into the wild.
That information appears to have come in the form of a single tip from an individual who had once volunteered at the rescue facility. Other volunteers gave opposite accounts, lauding the Supenskys for a record of success in releasing animals into the wild.
If that’s the bar that needs to be reached for serious action to be taken by a police agency, what does that say about the rampant poaching that has been revealed in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest? As last week’s investigative story by Chronicle reporter Jordan Nailon detailed, there was also a tip in that case.
In July 2016, a tipster notified authorities in a claim that was forwarded to the agency that Eddy Dills, the campground host at Takhlakh Lake, north of Mount Adams, through a contract with the U.S. Forest Service and Hoodoo Recreation, was using his position deep in the forest to kill bears and other animals with the illegal help of dogs and a network of fellow poachers. The group had also killed up to 200 grouse, the tipster said.
What happened? According to Fish and Wildlife documents, Dills and his band of alleged poachers continued to slaughter dozens of animals for months. He remained the campground host, maintaining unique access to the forest. Perhaps an investigation of some sort was underway, but it certainly didn’t lead to any arrests or public revelations of poaching activity on public land.
Oregon wildlife police ending up busting the case open in a matter of days in December 2016 as the ring’s activity stretched into forestland in northwest Oregon. After catching illegal hunting activity on camera, they stopped the suspected vehicle. The passengers — Erik Martin and William Haynes — admitted to poaching two deer and a squirrel and consented to having their cellphones searched. Later that day, they provided information leading agency authorities — on information provided by Oregon officials — to more than 25 poached deer skulls. Cellphone data eventually led to the discovery of dozens of additional incidents of suspected poaching in Oregon and Washington dating back to 2015.
So while the agency appears to have the resources to raid an animal rescue with eight years of successful history raising and releasing deer and kill four of the animals based on a single tip, apparently that immediacy and those resources were nowhere to be found as wildlife was being slaughtered in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Where, exactly, are the priorities of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife?
Hatcheries don’t appear to be the priority, either. In 2016, the agency finally relented to persistent questioning from The Chronicle and admitted 500,000 fish had disappeared with no explanation from the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery. Now, they blame machines used to count the fish for continued issues with accounting.
There are other reasons to question if Fish and Wildlife is truly dedicated and able to carry out its mission of protecting the resources of the people of Washington. There needs to be a top-to-bottom assessment of its funding and priorities. Perhaps state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who represents a portion of western Lewis County, can champion the topic in the state Legislature, along with Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the Republican chairman of the Natural Resources and Parks Committee, who has spoken to The Chronicle on the topic in the past. Pearson is stepping down, however, to take a position with the Trump administration in the Department of Agriculture.
Walsh had this to say on Facebook Thursday: “With all of the problems it has, WDFW makes a priority of killing Bambi?”
It certainly appears to be the case. We hope our leaders act to change that.
The above editorial appeared in the Nov. 18 Chronicle.