Hunter laments soft punishment for poaching

2014-03-22T00:00:00Z 2014-03-24T08:17:04Z Hunter laments soft punishment for poachingCommentary By Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review The Billings Gazette

Pend Oreille County District Court has dinged Charles I. Fraley, 27, of Ione, Wash., $6,193 for using a rifle to kill a six-point bull elk during the September archery season.

A bowhunter who was in the line of fire says the penalty wasn't enough.

"Poaching has become so common up here, the judges need to make a statement, especially with these repeat offenders," said the 65-year-old archer, also from Ione, who asked that he be called Buck.

Late last summer, Buck had pegged where a bull and its harem were crossing a creek from feeding to bedding areas.

"I came back the next morning and was in position before daylight," he said. "I watched the cows come out and up the ridge. I cow-called a little and the bull bugled. Then I heard the first shot.

"It sounded like somebody was shooting at me. It was close. I'm in full camo.

"I hit the ground and two more shots were fired. I could hear a bullet hitting a tree. When I looked up, the bull was lying there dead. It scared me a little."

Buck used a cell phone to report the crime to the sheriff and headed back to his pickup.

"I just got to my rig and (Fraley) came driving in. When he saw me, he took off up a road, but it was a dead end, so I knew he would be back.

"A little while later, here comes his dad and granddad. I told them their boy was in trouble. At first, the dad said, 'No, he wouldn't do something like that.'

"I asked why they just happened to show up. They said their boy's pickup wouldn't start. I pointed out it was running just fine when he drove away from me.

"Then it went from bad to worse. The dad said he was going to kick my butt.

"I said they weren't about to do that, and I had some persuasion.

"The grandpa got involved, saying if word got out about this he was going to come after me. Well, word was already out."

In an unusual coincidence, officers from three enforcement agencies were in the vicinity and worked together to make the case. The Pend Oreille County Sheriff's deputy who showed up first turned Fraley over for questioning when state Fish and Wildlife officer Donny Weatherman arrived.

A Border Patrol officer used his tracking dog to trace Fraley's movements away from his vehicle.

After questioning, Fraley admitted to shooting the bull with a rifle, which was stashed in the woods after the elk was shot and before he returned to his vehicle.

The officers found three shell casings where he fired the rifle at the bull.

It was one of the last major cases for Fish and Wildlife police officer Don Weatherman, who retired at the end of the hunting seasons after 36 years of trying to clamp down on the region's poachers.

"He did an expert job with the interrogation," said WDFW Capt. Dan Rahn. "But we probably wouldn't have made the case at all without the help of the bowhunter."

Fraley is not a new face to wildlife enforcement. In 2009, again working from a citizen's tip, he was convicted of killing a common loon at Yocum Lake near Newport.

Fraley had shot the male loon in the neck as the bird teamed with its mate to raise a small chick. The female was seen after the mid-June incident, but the chick apparently perished.

Loons are protected waterfowl, revered for their yodeling call. Only 10 nesting pairs of common loons were known to nest in Eastern Washington that year.

Yet Fraley's fine totaled just $271.

About the only thing wildlife enthusiasts can appreciate about this scumbag is that the case helped boost loons onto the list of protected fish and wildlife designated for "criminal wildlife penalty assessments."

Kill a loon or mess with its eggs now and you'll pay a mandatory $2,000 assessment regardless of whether the judge suspends the normal fine or jail time. Other protected birds on the list include eagles, ferruginous hawks and peregrine falcons.

This provision for wildlife penalties delivered the justice to Fraley in the elk poaching case. The judge suspended his $5,000 fine and year of jail time for unlawfully hunting big game.

"But the $6,000 state assessment for killing a trophy bull elk is mandatory," Capt. Rahn said. "The money comes back to help pay for more wildlife enforcement."

If Fraley doesn't weasel out of the payments, he'll finally be contributing a bit to curbing poachers.

None of this is particularly comforting to Buck.

"I was born and raised in this area and you can't believe the changes in the last 30 years," he said.

"There used to be a lot of game. But now this place is rampant with cotton-pickin' poachers and there's hardly any game by comparison. There's only one wildlife officer for the entire county."

The difference struck him a few years ago when he moved back to his family place at Ione after working 25 years in Spokane.

"I couldn't believe it. It's not uncommon to hear shots in the middle of the night.

"People are baiting and spotlighting. We find the carcasses of bucks with their heads cut off. Yet if we get poachers to court, the judges suspend this and suspend that.

"It's a crazy deal: the losers around here are the winners.

"The courts say if they put them in jail the taxpayers will have to support them, and their families, too. Either way the poachers rip us off.

"This guy killed a trophy bull. I held him at the scene and I can tell you they should have confiscated his rifle and his rig. Make him walk. Other hunters would die for the chance to hunt that bull."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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