OREGON:  Catching poachers is about to get easier

OREGON: Catching poachers is about to get easier

Poachers devastate mule deer herds in southeastern Oregon and brazenly shoot bighorn sheep in the north. State Legislators have taken notice of Oregon’s poaching problem. Their solution is an anti-poaching campaign designed to increase reporting, citing and prosecuting crimes against wildlife. They dedicated $4.4 Million to three agencies to accomplish the task.
Oregon State Police (OSP), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) will launch a three-pronged statewide anti-poaching effort that unifies hunters and non-hunters. The goal is to reduce the illegal killing of fish and wildlife. All three agencies- along with the Oregon Hunter’s Association, which was instrumental in lobbying for the legislation- agree that this is a winning strategy.
“This legislation creates new opportunities for us to combine efforts with our law enforcement and judicial partners to reduce fish and wildlife crimes,” said ODFW Director, Curt Melcher, “And most importantly, it will translate to improved fish and wildlife populations for the enjoyment of all Oregonians and our visitors,” he said.
Lawmakers like Rep Brad Witt recognize that poaching reduces opportunities for hunters. Witt, Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and an avid hunter, sponsored this and other legislation targeting poachers.
“We need to stop the poaching to save our precious wildlife resources, but also because it is unfair to true sportsmen, honest hunters and anglers who obey laws and bag limits and just want to enjoy a day in the field,” he said.
The bulk of the funding, about $2.2 Million, supports four new OSP fish and wildlife troopers now working in the field, along with an additional Sergeant. This brings the total to 126 fish and wildlife troopers across the state. OSP will also purchase additional trail cameras, according to Lieutenant Craig Heuberger. The trail cameras help troopers spot and identify poachers in remote areas and in poaching hot-spots where it is not feasible to post a trooper.
The second prong of legislation supports a roving district attorney position. Sometimes county officials would like to prosecute poachers, but their dockets are full. The roving district attorney will reach out to jurisdictions across the state to assist in prosecuting wildlife crimes. He or she will offer insights into how crimes are committed, what evidence is most useful and common pitfalls to avoid.
This is a much-needed resource for OSP troopers like Mark Schoenborn, who patrols in Multnomah and Clackamas counties. Schoenborn enforces fish and wildlife laws in a combination of urban and rural areas divided by several rivers, and encompassing forests and fields. In such a diverse landscape, identifying crimes, gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses requires keen attention to detail along with in-depth geographical and regulatory knowledge.
“Having a dedicated fish and wildlife DA is beneficial because of the nature of wildlife crimes,” said Schoenborn.
The third prong in the legislation is an education and awareness campaign headed by ODFW. The agency hired Yvonne Shaw to lead the campaign. Shaw, who has a background in issues campaigns and community education, will reach out to stakeholders across the state. She will engage recreational users, hunters, anglers, landowners and special interest groups in a common goal to end poaching.
Steve Hagan, the Northwest Director for the Oregon Hunting Association, says the public awareness campaign is an important new element that will draw in recreation stakeholders. He is quick to point out that illegal hunting is not hunting. It’s thievery. Increased penalties for killing trophy animals elevate crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony. In the past, it’s usually been a hunter, angler or neighbor who would report poachers, and this campaign increases that reach.
“We never had the opportunity to broadly influence education in every county,” Hagan said, “We never have had, in the past, a program or the staff to do that.”
“Now with our populations changing and more people than ever recreating across the state, it’s important that we educate all Oregonians on how to recognize poaching when they see it,” Shaw said, “And to empower them to report the crime.”
Reporting the crime is easy. State law enforcement officials designated a hotline that ties into the same emergency reporting infrastructure as 911. The Turn In Poachers Line (TIP Line) directs calls to OSP Fish and Wildlife troopers who patrol the area. If someone who poaches fish and game animals are convicted, the person who reported them can receive either a cash reward or hunting preference points.
“Wildlife is a public trust resource,” said Melcher, who compares the anti-poaching campaign to activating an army of unpaid lobbyists, “We rely on both the hunting and the non-hunting public to report crimes.”
To Call the TIP Line: Dial *OSP or 1-800-452-7888.