UPDATED JUNE 9, 2011: Two men in an Okanogan County family shot wolves and one spread pesticide to take still more. They and another woman also attempted to ship the pelt of one to Canada, a move that ultimately backfired on the trio.
That according to a 12-count indictment leveled by a grand jury in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington Tuesday against William “Bill” D. White, his son, Tom D. White and Tom’s wife, Erin White, all of Twisp.
The Methow Valley News broke the story. It involves the alleged killing of at least two Endangered Species Act-listed animals as well as Federal charges of conspiracy, smuggling and making false statements.
“This is a long time in coming,” said Mike Cenci, deputy chief game warden of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife whose officers performed some of the first investigation into the case that’s over two years old now. “Enforcement is just as anxious as the public to see some resolution here.”
The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that Bill White said that his family had no comment.
Federal documents indicate that in 2008, even as wolf advocates were celebrating the discovery of Washington’s first pack in 70 years, the Whites were busy targeting the animals which lived on or near their ranch under Lookout Mountain west of Twisp.
According to the 10-page indictment, the conspiracy to kill the wild animals began in December 2007 when Bill White asked a relative in Alaska for help finding someone who knew how to snare wolves.
That year there had been two solid reports of a large group of wolves in western Okanogan County, according to WDFW documents.
Emails from January 2008 indicate that Bill “and others” were hunting three wolves, according to the indictment, followed by more attempts to hunt and trap them in April and May of that year.
Sometime around May 13 Tom killed one wolf then another around Dec. 15, 2008, the papers say. He is charged with two counts of unlawful killing of an endangered species.
In between those events, the retired federal wolf trapper and biologist Carter Niemeyer and WDFW biologists captured the pack’s two alpha wolves and collared them. A litter of six pups was also photographed that summer by remote camera.
An email from Jan. 14, 2009, indicates that Bill White and others shot two wolves in one pack of nine and another in a group of three, the indictment says.
It’s unclear if the three wolves died.
Ten days prior to that day he spread pesticides to kill wolves, papers say.
The case came to light in March 2009 following the discovery in late Dec. 2008 of a bloody pelt inside a shipping package at the Omak Wal-Mart. It was being mailed to an address in Alberta by someone who said her name was Allison. Surveillance camera footage eventually led back to the Whites, according to a 37-page search-warrant affidavit.
The federal indictment indicates that even after the Whites were warned by the Canadian man that officers had intercepted the package and thus were likely investigating the matter, Bill continued to try to kill wolves, spreading poison.
Cenci, pointing to a state case against the Whites involving illegal hound hunting, termed it not an issue of a rancher protecting his stock but a case of “poachers against wolves.”
“If proven that those charged have taken multiple animals from that pack, you could go so far as to say its potential extinction is on their hands,” he said.
At one time in 2008, the pack numbered as many as 10. Most recently it was estimated at two or three, both adult males.
“The loss here isn’t just the animals,” said Cenci. “There was a fairly large investment in research that was lost as well.”
On their Facebook pages, Conservation Northwest of Bellingham welcomed “this strong signal that poaching will not be tolerated” and its executive director Mitch Friedman howled, “Justice for the Lookout Pack!”
“Poachers like this who deliberately try to wipe out a population of endangered wildlife need to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Friedman also said in a press release.
Conservation Northwest has been working with the state agency on monitoring wolves and other animals in Washington’s North Cascades. Its trail cameras captured some of the first images of the Lookout Pack.
Earlier this year, the Bellingham-based organization and WDFW teamed up to seriously boost the amount of reward money offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of poachers, including $7,500 for wolves and $3,000 for “egregious” illegal deer and elk killing. Previously only $500 was offered, though hunters can get bonus special permit points for turning in poachers.
Ironically, Bill White once taught hunter education, but his certificate was suspended.
The indictment comes just days after the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission was updated on the latest revisions to the state’s draft wolf management plan and as WDFW and its Wolf Working Group convenes in Ellensburg for two days to go over the tweaks to the plan.
It also follows on last year’s mysterious disappearance of the Lookout Pack’s aged alpha female and in fall 2009 the poaching of another wolf believed to be from the pack by a pair of Western Washington men. Cenci says there has been no progress on the latter incident, and game wardens lack evidence on the first. Though he’s not privy to the entire Federal case, Cenci said that there’s no reason to believe more than five wolves were allegedly shot by the Whites.
And it comes after news that late last week Idaho anti-wolf activist Tony Mayer of saveelk.com plead guilty to misdemeanor wildlife violations of taking an elk out of season and won’t be allowed to hunt for three years.
The issue of wolves is an increasingly contentious one in Washington, with full-on online debate. I wrote a large article about the Lookout Pack in the May 2011 issue of Northwest Sportsman and expanded and updated it here.
Thought to have been wiped out of the state by the 1930s, for decades now wolves have been haunting the Cascades and Pend Oreille County. WDFW began work on its wolf plan in 2007 as it became obvious the species would soon spill over from reintroduced populations in Central Idaho and more would continue to filter into the state from Canada and North Idaho. There are no plans to bring any in from outside the state, but WDFW is setting baseline goals for how many will constitute recovery.
At the end of 2010 there were a minimum of 18 or 19 wolves in the state in three packs, a figure that’s probably higher now with pups in dens. Biologists will also search the Teanaway, Hozomeen area and Blue Mountains for more.
Despite the high interest in the case, no press release was issued by the Federal court, and a spokesman for Michael C. Ormsby, the U.S. attorney in Spokane, said that the court did not intend to comment on the case.
The next step will be for the Whites to be summoned for arraignment on the charges. A trial date will then be issued.
Penalties for killing ESA-listed wolves include up to a $100,000 fine, a year in jail and civil fines up to $25,000. The indictment also charges the Whites with smuggling, punishable by up to 10 years in jail, according to the Methow Valley News.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article said that the Whites allegedly shot five wolves. Tom White has been charged with killing two; it’s unclear whether three other wolves mentioned in Federal documents as been shot were among those two or other incidents.