By Jordan Nailon / The Chronicle
A stack of evidence and suggested charges pertaining to an extensive wildlife poaching ring are set to be delivered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday.
The case involves the illegal taking of hundreds of animals throughout Southwest Washington and northwest Oregon over the past several years.
The animals poached include deer, elk, bear, cougar and bobcats, many of which were hunted and mauled with the illegal assistance of hound dogs.
In many cases, the animals were simply shot and left behind to rot with no effort made to salvage any meat. On one video obtained by officials during their investigation, a suspect can be heard bragging about killing four bears in one day while a pack of hunting hounds tears at one freshly poached bear carcass.
The investigation began more than two years ago after headless deer were found on a popular walking trail in Oregon. Wildlife officials eventually set up trail cameras in the area and wound up with video of two initial suspects in the case. Once they pulled on that thread a deep web of illegal hunting and black market trophy trading was uncovered.
Mike Cenci, deputy chief of westside enforcement operations for the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife, said the case is perhaps the most revolting he has seen during his career.
“We’re surprised at the sheer volume of poached animals. We knew that from the outset but it’s still shocking,” said Cenci.
Back in May, Cenci noted his preference to wrap up the investigation as quickly as possible in order to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly. However, Cenci also pointed out that many of the poaching locations were in remote high-altitude areas where lingering snow put the brakes on the investigation. The heat of the summer has cleared most of those areas now, and as a result the WDFW is finally ready to hand the case over to the prosecuting attorney.
“Our investigation is complete,” Cenci told The Chronicle on Monday.
He said he expects the files to be reviewed and charges to be filed promptly.
“We’re recomending filng against five persons initially and then six after that and then there are some satellite people as well, so there will be some levels to this. Ultimately the charges are up to the prosecutor but that’s what we are recommending,” he said.
Cenci said he was unable to release any names of suspects because they have not yet been charged with a crime. However, Cenci said he is confident that justice will ultimately be served in this case of wanton waste of wildlife in Washington and Oregon.
“I’ve been surprised before relative to our judicial system but I know that our officers have done their job. They’ve done their due diligence and now it’s in the hand of the prosecutor, judge and jury,” he said.