State fish and wildlife officers are continuing to pursue their investigation into wide-scale elk and deer poaching in the Blue Mountains, and a private hunters' group is offering nearly $2,000 in rewards for information leading to arrests and convictions in the case.
The investigation has already led to charges against two men. Jon Morton, 38, of Sumner, recently was found guilty of killing a game animal during closed season and wastage of a game animal. Morton was fined $6,000.
More recently, the same charges were filed in Columbia County District Court against Dean E. Duckett, 38, of Lynnwood. That case is pending.
Officers had been poised to arrest a third suspect but the man recently died, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork.
Bjork said officers are continuing to collect evidence against other suspects in the poachings, which include the killing of at least 24 bull elk and numerous deer from last September through January.
"We are aggressively pursuing any and all information we receive regarding the individuals and groups who may have been involved in these crimes," Bjork said. "Anyone who has information regarding the case is urged to contact us. "
WDFW Officer Todd Vandivert is leading the investigation for the department. He can be contacted through the Columbia County Sheriff's Office at (509) 382-1100. Callers can also call the WDFW poaching hotline at 1(800) 477-6224.
The Hunters' Heritage Council is offering nearly $2,000 in rewards for information leading to arrests and convictions in the case. The Hunters' Heritage Council is a consortium of the Washington State Bowhunters, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, Citizens for Washington's Wildlife, and Safari Club International chapters of Puget Sound, Northwest, Inland Empire and Central Washington.
WDFW's own reward fund provides at least $1,000 in rewards per violator charged. Depending on the number of people involved, several hundred dollars could be available to informants. Hunters who provide violator information that leads to an arrest and conviction can also be eligible for "hunter preference points" for advantage in special hunting permit drawings.
Most of the dead elk were found last fall in the Eckler Mountain, Jasper Mountain and Skyline Road areas south of Dayton in Columbia County. However, at least eight elk have been killed this winter, bringing the total to at least 24. Most have been branch-antlered bulls, which are legally available only through a limited number of special hunting permits during a late October-early November season.
Only the antlers were removed from most of the animals, with the carcasses left behind. Some were simply shot and left.