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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Oregon hires its first anti-poaching special prosecutor

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Oregon State Police / AP
FILE - This Nov. 16, 2016, photo provided by Oregon State Police shows a bull elk that was illegally killed and left to waste near Elgin, Ore. An extensive poaching ring was responsible for slaughtering more than 100 black bears, cougars, bobcats, deer and elk in southwestern Washington state and northwestern Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Justice has hired its first-ever anti-poaching prosecutor to crack down on a spike in illegal wildlife killing across the state.

For the first time ever, the Oregon Department of Justice has hired a special prosecutor solely dedicated to locating, investigating, and prosecuting poachers. The new position comes as the state has recently seen a spike in the unsolved illegal killing of wildlife including deer, elk and wolves.

Jay Hall was hired last month to be the new assistant attorney general dedicated to enforcing anti-poaching laws and providing expertise and resources to local law enforcement for poaching investigations and prosecutions. He previously spent 12 years prosecuting major crimes for the Lane County district attorney’s office and developed expertise in using state racketeering laws against organized poaching rings. In 2010 he received an award from the Oregon State Police for prosecuting a poaching ring that killed more than 300 deer and elk.

Hall will work with the Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and advise law enforcement agencies in collecting evidence, processing cases and assigning penalties and will also guide and assist county prosecutors in fish and wildlife criminal cases.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature approved funding for the Stop Poaching Campaign to increase anti-poaching efforts across the state. The campaign includes working with communities to find poachers, adding four Oregon State Police troopers and a sergeant to increase enforcement, and hiring an anti-poaching prosecutor.

“Now that all three components of the legislative strategy are in place, our ability to tackle poaching across the state is greatly enhanced,” Rep. Ken Helm, a Beaverton Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Wildlife Caucus, said in a press release statement.

Recently, the state has seen an increase in wildlife poaching with two cases of wolves being illegally shot in the last two months. In January, investigators with Oregon State Police said a two-year-old collared female wolf was found dead in Wallowa County. Last month, officials found a dead wolf near Cove in Union County. The shootings have prompted conservationists and wildlife advocates to call on the state to hire a special prosecutor for wildlife crime.

“Fulfilling this role increases our chances of holding poachers accountable,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Stop Poaching Campaign Coordinator Yvonne Shaw said. “Prosecuting crimes against fish, wildlife and their habitats preserves natural resources that belong to all Oregonians.”

Shaw said only a fraction of poaching is detected and reported.

According to Oregon State Police, 447 big game species like wolves, bears, and antelope were killed in 2020. That’s a major increase from the 324 big game species that were killed in 2019.

Conservationists say this new role is much needed and will provide local counties with the resources to prosecute poachers. They say they hope to see a reduction in the illegal killing of wildlife.

“I think some of these high-profile poaching cases, particularly of wolves, have kind of pushed this issue into the spotlight,” Quinn Read, a policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said.

Read said having a prosecutor focused on enforcing anti-poaching laws is a game changer. She said many times cases fall through the cracks in local counties because of limited resources.

“Having someone here who can really focus and specialize and bring that expertise to enforcing our wildlife laws is really key,” she said.

The Stop Poaching Campaign is a collaboration among hunters, conservationists, landowners, and recreationists to educate the public on how to recognize and report poaching. The program’s goal is to increase reporting of poaching through their tip line, 1-800-452-7888, and to increase prosecution of these crimes.
Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.