An Oregon man will spend the next three elk seasons in jail after a judge handed down a creative sentence for what law enforcement officials dubbed a “wildlife crime spree.”
Walker Erickson, 28, of Pendleton, pleaded guilty to 22 charges stemming from an 18-month period in which he poached six deer and eight elk. He received felony charges including “hunting in violation of wildlife law or rule” and misdemeanors related to leaving game animals to waste, trespassing, and tampering with evidence.
The deer Erickson poached included a 4×4 mule deer buck and a 4×5 whitetail buck, and the elk included a 4×4, a 5×6, and a large 7×7 bull that would be “the top trophy in any hunter’s collection,” according to Jay Hall, Oregon’s Wildlife Anti-Poaching Resources prosecutor.
Hall asked Judge Janet Stauffe for a sentence that “fit the crime,” and the judge agreed. Over the next three years, Erickson will spend 14 days in jail while legal Oregon hunters pursue elk.
“Elk season is now jail season,” Hall said.
In addition to prison time, the 28-year-old had his hunting license suspended for life and was ordered to pay a total of $75,000 in fines, including $15,000 for the 7×7 elk, $15,000 for the 5×6 elk, and $7,500 for the 4×4 mule deer.
Investigators were first alerted to Erickson’s actions in 2020 when an anonymous tip came into the Oregon State Police’s Turn In Poachers (TIP) Line.
Subsequent investigation resulted in a search of Erickson’s house, where officials found skulls and antlers from the poached animals along with a freezer full of meat, a rifle, and a bow. All of this property was seized, and the meat was donated to the Blue Mountain Wildlife Center for their raptor rehabilitation program.
Most of the deer and elk were killed out of season or with no valid tag, Yvonne Shaw, campaign coordinator for Protect Oregon’s Wildlife–Turn In Poachers, told MeatEater. One of the elk was killed with the wrong weapon, and another was killed on private property. They believe the rest were killed on public land.
Hall credits the Oregon state legislature for the severity of Erickson’s punishment. In 2018, legislators passed HB 3035, which created stiffer penalties and allowed prosecutors to elevate poaching crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) said in a press release that this is the “first significant application of new sentencing guidelines.”
“All of this conduct, if it had occurred only a year before, before the legislature created these felony level poaching crimes, he would be facing only misdemeanor sentencing,” Hall said.
Wildlife poaching remains a problem in all 50 states, and Oregon is no exception. The state estimates that nearly 5,000 animals were poached in 2022 alone, and the real number is likely higher.
“Poaching poses a direct threat to Oregon’s precious fish and wildlife populations,” Shaw said. “We need all Oregonians to be our eyes and ears in the fields, forests, waterways, and beaches of Oregon.”
Hunters are answering the call. Along with submitting tips as in Erickson’s case, the Oregon Hunters Association announced it will be doubling the rewards paid to informants in fish and game poaching cases through OHA’s Turn in Poachers (TIP) reward program.
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