March 23, 2017
By Lisa Lakey
About 20 Washington Fish and Wildlife officers issued six warrants in Skagit County March 11 in regard to the recent poaching of two elk and a cougar.
Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Russ Mullins said they are looking at a group of four suspects who possibly coordinated the killings. Officers interviewed the suspects along with potential witnesses. At this time, the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed. Officers did, however, seize evidence.
“We ended up recovering one of the elk racks and the cougar hide, and seizing a truck and a bunch of equipment,” Mullins said.
Officers additionally confiscated cellphones, a rifle, elk meat and photos that could be considered incriminating evidence, including one of a man dragging a limp cougar.
“The photo of the cougar shows the suspect actually at the location where they killed it and the dog in the photo off to the left a little bit,” Mullins said. “That’s pretty sound evidence of that violation.”
Based on the evidence, Mullins said the cougar is believed to have been hunted using dogs, which is illegal in Washington. Fish and Wildlife officers also recovered dog collars equipped with GPS from the suspects’ homes. The collars are often used to track dogs chasing game.
While the suspects names were not released, Mullins said all four have criminal histories involving poaching violations.
“We were able to put together solid cases on people that have prior history with Fish and Wildlife violations and that have been likely engaging in these sort of activities for many years,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit group…It was a sophisticated kind of criminal activity.”
While elk and deer are often targets for poachers in Washington, Mullins said that cougar poaching is not common.
“It is fairly unusual because this type of poaching requires the use of trained hound dogs,” he said. “Seeing as it’s illegal and has been for many years now, there are not a lot of trained dogs left.”
In 1996, a voter-approved initiative passed prohibiting the use of dogs in both hunting black bears and big cats. Violators of the law can be banned from obtaining a hunting license for up to five years.