Last summer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that, with help from the State Patrol in Oregon, they had cracked an enormous poaching ring operating primarily out of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington.
The charges alleged that more than 100 game animals were poached by the group, with many of the carcasses simply left to rot. The poachers often illegally used hound dogs to tree bears and big cats, and the alleged ringleader, Eddy Dills, is believed to have used his status as campground host for the U.S. Forest Service to help perpetuate the wildlife crimes. One suspect admitted to WDFW police that the body of a poached black bear had been stuffed inside a culvert on a logging road to expediently hide the evidence and get back to poaching.
While the accused seemed to be hellbent on racking up as many kills as possible during their multiple-year poaching spree, authorities have had much less luck within the confines of the court system. Since the first round of recommended charges were issued in August, just one conviction has been attained. Bryan Tretiak of Morton pleaded guilty to second-degree illegal hunting of big game in Skamania County. That conviction relates to the illegal take of a black bear with the use of hounds south of Randle in August 2015. Tretiak was slapped with 14 days of community service and a $500 fine, and he is not allowed to own hunting dogs for two years.
According to Skamania County Prosecutor Adam Kick, his office decided to drop a number of the original criminal charges against Tretiak and accept the guilty plea after a more thorough review of the case files.
“We realized later on that he really wasn’t a major player. ..,” Kick said. “Some of them have bad histories and two of the four are definitely involved with multiple events over time. It really was a crime spree in their case.”
The four accused poachers Kick referenced include the father and son duo of Eddy and Joseph Dills, along with William “Billy” Haynes, and Erik Martin, all of Cowlitz County. They are accused of the largest volume of poaching crimes as well as the most heinous acts. Many of those acts were captured on cellphone cameras and discovered by police during their investigation.
Jury trials for those four men were supposed to begin in December, but a wave of motions filed by defense attorneys have pushed all four court dates back to June 11.
“Sometimes these things take close to a year to resolve,” Kick said.
WDFW Police Captain Jeff Wickersham agreed that the pace of the poaching cases is not out of the ordinary.
“At this point the cases are moving through the courts as we would expect,” Wickersham said.
Another issue: Authorities are still actively attempting to leverage the suspects for additional information regarding additional poaching activity in the region.
Felony cases still awaiting an outcome in Skamania County include Eddy and Joseph Dills, Erik Martin, William Haynes and Kyle Manley. Those cases were charged in Skamania County because of where the bulk of the infractions are believed to have occurred within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Three additional felony cases have come out of the WDFW investigation. Those three defendants have been charged in Lewis County Superior Court based on the suspected location of the alleged illegal activity. Those defendants are Aaron Hanson, Aaron Hendricks and David McLeskey, of the Woodland area, who were charged in December with first-degree animal cruelty, unlawful hunting of black bear, cougar, bobcat or lynx with dogs, and second-degree unlawful hunting of wild animals.
According to Brad Meagher, senior deputy prosecutor for Lewis County, there are no plea deals in the works for those suspected poachers, and a trial date has been set for July 23.