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Wrongdoers are profiting from their deadly exploitation of Northwest wildlife, from elk and deer to sturgeon and shellfish. But law enforcement and private citizens are out to stop these crimes against nature. JPR and Earthfix take on this issue in this special report.

A Guide To "Wildlife Detectives"

Columbia River sturgeon are poached for eggs that become high-priced caviar. Puget Sound shellfish are plundered and shipped to Asian markets.

From the Cascades to the Rockies, bear gall bladders, elk antlers and eagle feathers are illegally harvested and sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the black market.

The phrase “wildlife trafficking” usually evokes visions of elephant tusks, tiger pelts and mounted trophy heads of animals killed in faraway places, then smuggled into the United States, Asia or Europe.

But traffickers and poachers are also robbing the United States of its own native fauna. Our investigation found that’s especially true in the wildlife-abundant region of the Pacific Northwest. Our team of reporters conducted hundreds of interviews, spent hours reviewing documents, and followed law enforcement as they worked their cases. They found that:

Poachers cruelly chase elk to the point of exhaustion and even death. Their aim: force the animals to shed their antlers early so they can profit.

Enforcement officers lack the resources to fully police the illegal wildlife trade. Washington would need to double its number of field officers to meet workload demands.

People are illegally harvesting and selling shellfish in back-alley deals. Detectives are on the case, trying to protect natural resources and public health.

Illegal overharvesting can drive a species to collapse. That’s what happened to Washington’s pinto abalone, which scientists are now trying to bring back.

The collapse of a species far away can fuel poaching close to home. Consider the case of caviar-producing sturgeon in decline in Eurasia and the rising demand on the Columbia River.

Even America’s national symbol is not immune from illegal profiteers. That’s evident in the lucrative black market for eagle feathers.

Maintaining a healthy geoduck population is becoming more difficult. Demand is on the rise — and so is poaching — as an expanding Chinese middle class develops a taste for the world’s largest burrowing clams.

Scientists are applying new technology to detect the unique scents of endangered hardwood. That means the world's only wildlife crime lab can link furniture and musical instruments to illegal logging.

How poachers and black-market traffickers are plundering Northwest wildlife - explained in three videos:

Copyright 2015 Earthfix