The meat of yesterday’s coverage of the 12-count grand jury indictment handed down against members of a Twisp, Wash., family focused on the alleged poaching of wolves and its discovery when a FedEx agent refused to pick up a bloody shipping package at the Omak Wal-Mart in March 2009.
What was lost is that the Federal case also charges William “Bill” D. White with four counts of trying to import a moose and whitetail deer he’d shot in Canada back into the United States in November 2007, both illegally and undeclared when they should have been.
There’s also a case pending in Okanogan County District Court against him for poaching a trophy buck out of season and illegally hunting a bear with hounds, according to the lead state game warden there.
“One of the things we hear is that he’s a folk hero for allegedly killing wolves,” says Sgt. James Brown of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, “but this is a pattern of behavior.”
Mythologizing wildlife criminals may not be a particularly Northwestern characteristic, but it is here that Claude Dallas was popularized after he shot two game wardens in Idaho in the 1980s and escaped jail before serving 22 years for manslaughter.
YESTERDAY’S STORY ON THIS BLOG about the indictment said that Bill White and others are suspected of shooting wolves. However, a broader range of tools was allegedly employed, including trapping and poisoning.
“There were multiple methods in which wolves were killed, and that will come out at trial,” Brown says.
According to the 10-page indictment filed Tuesday in Spokane federal court, it alleges that Bill White:
Emailed a relative in Alaska in mid-December 2007 looking for “assistance in locating someone that knew how to snare wolves”;
Sent an email that on or about Jan. 24, 2008 he “and others were hunting wolves near his residence”;
Reported by email that in April and May 2008 he “was attempting to trap or kill wolves near his residence”;
In early January 2009, he “applied a pesticide in an order to unlawfully take and kill wildlife, including gray wolves”;
And sent an email in mid-January 2009 that he and others “shot several wolves, specifically two wolves in one group of nine and one wolf in another group of three.”
The indictment charges his son, Tom D. White, with two counts of unlawfully killing endangered gray wolves. According to court papers, Tom killed one in mid-May 2008, the other in mid-December.
A photo seized during a March 2009 search warrant shows Tom with a dead wolf. According to previous news articles, he said he shot it after it became entangled in a barbed wire fence. According to a search-warrant affidavit, it may have actually been caught in an illegal leghold trap then killed.
Bill and Tom White must surrender a Remington .300 Ultra Mag rifle, a 1999 Dodge Ram pickup, “one large, toothed, leghold trap,” and a Moultrie trail camera, if found guilty.
For attempting to ship a wolf pelt out of the country, they and Tom’s wife Erin all also face one count each of smuggling goods from the U.S., unlawfully exporting an endangered species and false labeling of wildlife for export, the last a Lacey Act violation.
Amazingly, even after an Alberta man tipped Bill off that the unprocessed hide meant for him had been intercepted by police, Bill continued to try to kill wolves, federal papers show.
The maximum fine for killing an ESA-listed wolf is $100,000, up to a year in jail and civil fines of $25,000. Wolves were federally protected across all of Washington when the two poachings allegedly occurred in 2008. They remain so in the area where it took place, though wolves in far Eastern Washington have since been delisted from ESA, but remain under state protections.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, in charge of wolves in the western two-third of the state and the agency which took the lead investigating the case, had no comment.
“There was a long, thorough investigation,” said spokeswoman Joan Jewett in Portland. “Now we have the indictment. The case is in the hands of the U.S. attorney. We can’t really comment at this point.”
The next step in the Federal case will be for the Whites to be summoned to Spokane for arraignment on the charges. A trial date will then be issued.
THE WHITES’ ALLEGED TARGET was the Lookout Pack, the state’s first in 70 years. Though it was likely the breeding pair had a litter in 2007 based on two good sightings elsewhere in Okanogan County, it wasn’t officially confirmed until July 2008. It was the subject of a Wenatchee World article the month before. After talking with Bill, reporter K.C. Mehaffey wrote:
White said he saw tracks this winter as large as those left by a cougar, only more oval in shape, with distinct toenail marks left in the snow. He said his son has seen one pack with nine wolves and another with four.
He said state and federal officials questioned the sightings, so he set up a remote camera and caught them on film. He said he also gathered hair at one location. One of the females captured on film shows clearly visible protruding nipples, indicating she’s nursing pups, he said.
White said he’s not happy about the sightings. After what the northern spotted owl did to the logging industry, he worries that gray wolves will only create more restrictions on public land.
“Are they going to rope it off and say no more logging or hunting or snowmobiling?” he asked.
White said he thinks one pack of wolves killed one of his hunting dogs that didn’t come back after a hunt this winter. “Everybody’s not supportive” of repopulating the area with wolves, he said, adding, “The cattleman’s the only one that’s going to make a sacrifice.”
In March 2009, after news broke about the investigation, White told the Methow Valley News:
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Bill White on Monday (March 30). On the advice of his attorney, he was reluctant to talk to the Methow Valley News. “It’s a painful deal, but when they have a hearing, it will all come out.
“I know, but I can’t say, if the wolves were bothering our animals. It’s not going to be like they’re saying,” said White. “It will all come out in the wash. It’s unfortunate that people make judgments, but this country has a pretty good legal system and I trust it will work.”
According to WDFW, the Lookout Pack shares DNA with coastal wolves in British Columbia. No evidence has surfaced that the animals arrived here any other way than on their own four feet.
At one point in 2008 the pack numbered 10; today only two, according to WDFW spokeswoman Madonna Luers. They both are apparently male, one the alpha. Another was poached in fall 2009; the alpha female mysteriously disappeared last spring.
AS FOR THE STATE’S CASE AGAINST BILL WHITE, Brown says it’s partially based on pictures seized from his computer.
“We determined there was a nice, big trophy mule deer taken out of season,” says Brown.
In an echo of the recent Tony “Saveelk.com” Mayer elk poaching case over in Idaho, Bill White reported one date as the buck’s harvest, sent emails indicating it was taken at another time, and an image of it shows it was taken on an entirely different day, Brown says.
As for the bear, the game warden was able to match up the background in an image of it to a ridge of Alder Creek Mountain near White’s property west of Twisp, thereby confirming it wasn’t taken somewhere else hounds might have been legal for pursuit.
“Poachers need to brag,” Brown says. “If you brag, there’s going to be an electronic footprint.”
AS IF ALL THIS WOLF NEWS WASN’T ENOUGH, WDFW’s Wolf Working Group is going over revisions to the draft wolf management plan in Ellensburg today.
Not too far from there, biologist Paul Frame is poking around the Teanaway in hopes of trapping large canids reportedly in the area.
From there’s it’s likely he will head for northern Pend Oreille County to figure out whether the Salmo Pack dens on the Washington side of the International border — and where it would count towards state recovery goals — or on the BC side. He may also check into reports of wolves in the Hozomeen area and Blue Mountains.
WDFW also posted a brand-new map of confirmed and suspected wolf ranges in Washington, part of the agency’s attempts to be more transparent about the state’s population.
With how huge of an issue wolves are and large of a management plan is being proposed, WDFW may hold as many as four public workshops across the state this summer and fall.
The schedule is not set in stone, but the meetings would occur early in the month.
One thing that can apparently be said to be set in stone is the most contentious item in the entire wolf plan: how many wolves over three consecutive years are enough for WDFW to delist from state protections.
“Yes, we looked at the minority opinion, yes, we looked at public comments, yes, we looked at the blind peer reviewers, but the one thing that ain’t changing is 15 breeding pairs,” Luers says. “We’re taking that to the (Fish & Wildlife) commission.”
The minority opinion, written by ranchers and hunters on the working group, advocated for half that number while many public commenters asked for as many as 25 or 30. Two of the three peer reviewers felt that 15 wasn’t adequate.
In the revised draft plan, new modeling from Washington State University’s Carnivore Lab found that in six of nine scenarios, 15 pairs spread through the Cascades and five-oh-nine country would be adequate to ensure long-term recovery – as long as those numbers weren’t population caps.
Luers says that Wildlife Division assistant director Nate Pamplin told the working group that they could shuffle where those 15 occur around in the state. The revised plan designated six pairs for far Eastern Washington, five for the South Cascades and Olympics, four for the North Cascades.
Not so explicitly stated publicly is that to achieve that many pairs over three years would actually likely require a total of 23 packs as nearly a third of wolves apparently don’t breed every year, according to the plan.
The commission is scheduled to vote on a final version in December.
Luers says that the alleged wolf poaching by the Whites “sets back, delays the timeframe to delist them and manage as any other wildlife in the state.”