Lingering winter conditions in the region’s mountainous backwoods are giving authorities fits as they attempt to bring a particularly ruthless group of suspected poachers to justice.
The group of at least 10 individuals based out of Cowlitz County is suspected of illegally killing hundreds of animals in Washington and Oregon in recent years, oftentimes leaving everything but the ornamental head behind to rot.
Those poached animals include deer, elk, bear, cougar and bobcats, many of which were hunted and mauled with the illegal assistance of hound dogs. The investigation began two years ago when wildlife officials in Oregon began finding the headless bodies of buck deer along popular trails.
Hidden trail cameras were eventually set up in those areas, and last December law enforcement officials were able to catch two of the perpetrators in the act of poaching.
Information gleaned from those arrests eventually unraveled a sordid tale of indiscriminate poaching and wanton waste by the organized group. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife deputy chief of westside enforcement operations Mike Cenci indicated earlier this month that the case was nearly ready to hand over to prosecutors but progress has slowed a bit because of weather conditions.
“We’re not ready yet. Our target date is August. We’re still connecting kill sites with illegally possessed animals and there is a lot of snow on the ground in some areas,” Cenci said. “I wish it was moving sooner, but Mother Nature is keeping us a bit in a holding pattern with some of this stuff.”
Previously, Cenci said these incidents of poaching are among the most horrendous he has ever encountered.
“I’ve got relationships with people who have cheated in the outdoors, maybe opportunists, maybe borderline hardcore, but there was always a respect for the animals. This is a complete disregard for the animals,” said Cenci in early May.
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.