Seven Cowlitz County residents are facing nearly 200 charges in connection with one of the biggest poaching investigations Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officers say they've ever seen.
The group is accused of going on animal killing sprees that crossed state lines.
It's a story our FOX 12 investigators first broke in May.
Court documents reveal disturbing photos of mauled bears and beheaded animals. The group allegedly used hounds to hunt down bears, which is illegal in both Washington and Oregon.
Also in those court documents, numerous photos of children showing off slaughtered animals. Video evidence showed young children present for at least one illegal hunt as well.
Investigators said the group often skinned the animals after kills and left the meat behind. To prove that, Fish & Wildlife officers spent the summer trekking out to possible kill sites across Skamania County.
They agreed to take FOX 12 along for one of those missions.
"We've got pictures of a dead bear from a cell phone that was seized, so right now we're using GPS coordinates from that photo and combing the area to look for bones, or remains of a bear," said Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Sgt. Pat Anderson. "We're also looking to match up the photo to our surroundings."
Within a matter of minutes on location, investigators unearthed the proof they were looking for.
"We've found a shoulder, a spinal cord, there's a hip and a leg," said Officer Tyler Bahrenburg. "It's all still here."
"It's very satisfying to come out and be able to prove what we're seeing in the cell phone data we've collected," said Anderson.
Officers say they've found at least two dozen different kill sites in connection with this case in recent months.
"We've been able to find where most of the bears that were killed were left," said Anderson. "We've gone to sites and found the skulls, or bones that would indicate the bears were left there to waste and they were simply just shot and left."
Working a case of this magnitude wasn't easy, and it's not over yet. Investigators say others are involved and it's only a matter of time before more charges are filed.
These are six of the people facing criminal charges so far: Joseph A. Dills William J. Haynes Erik C. Martin Aubri N. Mckenna Eddy A. Dills Bryan C. TretiakA 17-year-old girl is also facing criminal charges.
Investigators said the children seen in those videos and photos are not facing any charges.
The WDFW offers many tools for the public to use to report illegal hunting activity. People can file a report online with the option to stay anonymous or provide contact information.
Officers ask that the public call 911 to report poaching in progress or other emergency dangerous wildlife complaints. They also have a non-emergency poaching hotline at 1-877-933-9847.
People can also text a tip by sending "WDFWTIP" followed by a space and the tip to 847411. These reports are completely anonymous.
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