TWISP — After watching wolves disappear from the Methow Valley’s Lookout Pack, a Bellingham-based conservation group is offering up to $7,500 for information that leads to the conviction of a wolf poacher in Washington.
That’s 15 times the state’s current offer of $500 for information in a felony poaching case.
Conservation Northwest announced the reward Tuesday, along with rewards of up to $5,000 for information about people who have killed grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx or fishers, and up to $3,000 for spree killings or other egregious violations involving deer or elk.
The compensation for information on wolf killing is higher because the animals are only now venturing back into the state from Canada and Idaho, and are at a fragile state of recovery, said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest’s executive director.
He said recent news about the state’s investigation into a wolf poached 18 months ago, and a growing concern that wolves in the Lookout Pack are disappearing, gave his group a sense of urgency to offer the rewards now. Local residents who once saw eight Lookout Pack wolves together haven’t seen more than two at once since last summer.
“There’s an incredible amount of vocal hostility around wolves, and people need to realize it’s OK to have concerns about wolves, and talk about concerns. But we’re talking about illegal acts that impact everyone in the state,” he said.
Mike Cenci, Wildlife’s deputy chief of enforcement, said the larger rewards could help in ongoing investigations into wolf poachings, and act as a deterrent to poachers, who will have to worry about a bigger incentive for turning them in.
He said some people see poaching as a victimless crime, but when someone takes an animal illegally, everyone else in the state loses the ability to hunt or enjoy that animal. Communities dependent on natural resources suffer. And, if the species needs protection, taxpayers will pay for its recovery, he said.
Friedman said he’s concerned about the lack of prosecution when it comes to wildlife poaching. “I don’t know whether it’s a matter of prioritization given in prosecutors’ offices, or whether these cases are inherently more difficult to prosecute, because they happen in the woods,” he said.
Cenci said Wildlife officers have mixed results from prosecutors statewide. “Some counties are very aggressive in pursuing natural resource law violators, and others, not so much,” he said. “We find ourselves in the position of continually having to educate prosecutors’ offices with respect to the impacts that environmental or natural resource crime can have,” he said.
Friedman said he’s not aware of recent poachings in this state of any of the other species for which rewards are offered, but there have been unprecedented poaching of large numbers of big game animals in Western Washington recently.
“This can’t be about wolves alone,” Friedman said of the new rewards. “This is about protecting the state’s wildlife.”
The reward will be offered to those reporting poaching through the state’s poaching tipline, 1-877-933-9847.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512