If it weren’t for the nose of Mishka, a specially trained Finnish bear dog, game wardens might never have found the skinned carcass of a wolf in eastern Skagit County in September 2009.
New details about the case emerged today from Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife officer Capt. Bill Hebner in Mill Creek.
He says “several” anonymous tips led officers to search along a road in the Bacon Creek drainage, off Highway 20 between Marblemount and Newhalem.
“It was next to impossible to find it,” Hebner says. “We could smell something dead, but even so, couldn’t find it. The next day we came back with one of our Karelian bear dogs and he found it within seconds.”
It’s believed the wolf was illegally shot near Rainy Pass, further up Highway 20 in extreme eastern Skagit County, skinned elsewhere and then the carcass was dumped.
“We have identified two suspects. We’re hoping more information will come forward,” he says.
WDFW’s tip hotline is (877) 933-9847.
Penalties for shooting a wolf ranges up to $100,000 and a year in jail.
Mishka is one of three Karelians the agency uses to scare the bejesus out of bears that have roamed too close to homes, and find animal parts and poop. He was extremely important in a fall 2007 case that busted a Woodland, Wash., man for poaching a trophy elk inside Olympic National Park. Following Robert Hurst’s guilty plea in January 2010, I reported on it in our March 2010 issue:
IF IT HAD BEEN a state case, (WDFW enforcement officer) Brian Alexander feels he could have had it wrapped up with the framer’s words, but the federal prosecutor “wanted specific things before he charged,” he says.
So he and others spent 600 man hours searching the extremely rugged terrain for a kill site, but unsuccessfully.
What they needed, it turns out, was a good nose moreso than sharp eyes.
WDFW biologist Rocky Spencer, who tragically died on the job in 2007, had a Karelian bear dog, Mishka. Ownership passed to enforcement officer Bruce Richards, and in early August 2008, the pair were brought in because of Mishka’s nose for bones.
They and Alexander began at the bottle and went downhill into Litchy Creek. Almost immediately Mishka found two bones with saw marks underneath forest debris.
“Brian said, ‘Jeez, Bruce, when I heard that, my heart leapt from my chest!’” Richards recalls.
From previous statements, they knew that a large chunk of the bull’s neck had been cut off during the pack out. At that point, Alexander’s GPS told them they were over three-quarters of a mile inside the park.
A bit further down he found bone, and then Mishka hit the jackpot – vertebrae with connective tissue.
“And that’s what made the DNA case,” says Richards. Adds Alexander, “That was the tipping point for the Feds.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lab in Ashland, Ore., matched the tissue with the sample Alexander had taken from the bull’s head 11 months before. Even further downhill they found an arrow and more bone.
“He’s been very useful,” says Capt. Hebner, “many different applications.”