UPDATED, 8:15 P.M., JANUARY 12, 2022 WITH ADDITIONAL DETAILS IN 7th-17th PARAGRAPHS
Extremist environmentalists on an all-out blitz to “reform” WDFW are jumping on the chance to label an agency manager with a derogatory term after he allegedly committed a big game hunting violation in mid-November and said he quickly owned up to it.
The incident was first reported this morning by the Spokane Spokesman-Review after Washington Wildlife First and the Kettle Range Conservation Group provided the newspaper with photos of Ferry County court documents filed a few days before Christmas.
“Yes, I self-reported the incident immediately after I realized I made the mistake and cooperated fully during the investigation,” WDFW Region 2 Director Brock Hoenes told reporter Eli Francovich.
He declined further comment, citing court proceedings.
Early this afternoon, in an all-staff email WDFW Director Kelly Susewind addressed the situation, reporting that the incident had been investigated by agency game wardens, with charges referred to the county prosecutor who subsequently decided to pursue charges.
“I am monitoring the court proceedings and it is important that the legal process play out,” Susewind stated. “Brock did what we encourage anyone to do in this situation, which is to call WDFW Enforcement and report themselves if they suspect they’ve violated a fish and wildlife law. Brock has discussed this incident with his regional management team and others. Please provide Brock space to address this important matter; more information will be shared when it is appropriate to do so.”
While further details weren’t available at the time of first posting of this blog, late in the day Northwest Sportsman obtained a copy of Ferry County Prosecuting Attorney Kathryn I. Burke’s declaration of probable cause, based on WDFW officer reports.
It was again first reported on by the Spokesman Review, which had received the papers today from a Spokane attorney who is unaffiliated with the case but who “tracks cases where self-reporters are being punished for honest mistakes.”
The documents allege that Hoenes arrived in the area the evening of November 12 and slept in his truck. The next morning he went hunting up Boulder Creek Road, in Game Management Unit 101, Sherman, a remote area east of the small town of Curlew, and killed a four-point whitetail buck with a Savage Model 110 in .30-06 and topped with a Nikon scope. At the time the unit was only open for archery hunting for any whitetail buck.
The documents state that as Hoenes began field dressing the deer at between 8:15 and 8:30, he “realized that he had not seen or heard anyone else” that day and that by 10 a.m. he was “pretty sure” the unit wasn’t open for the late rifle whitetail hunt.
The units that are, are to the east, in Stevens and Pend Oreille Counties.
Without cell service at his location Hoenes couldn’t initially confirm his dawning suspicion, but when he was able to get a signal he confirmed the unit was indeed closed to rifle hunters, documents state.
They state that he first told his wife what had happened, then called WDFW Captain Mike Jewell and detailed the story, and also called Director Susewind and told him.
Hoenes was met at Republic High School by WDFW Officers Konkle and King and read his Miranda rights. Asked if he would continue speaking with them, he said he would.
“I had it in my head it was open” for the late rifle hunt, he told them of the unit, according to county documents, as well as, “No excuse, it’s incredibly embarrassing.
“Hoenes was cooperative and apologetic throughout the duration of the interview,” the documents also state.
The deer was donated to the Air Force’s survival school, with the antlers and Hoenes’ notched tag submitted for evidence.
In today’s initial Spokesman-Review story, Hoenes is labeled “a poacher” by Samantha Bruegger of Washington Wildlife First, who essentially called for WDFW to take disciplinary action before the case was adjudicated.
That drew a sharp rebuke from Rich Landers, the retired longtime Spokesman-Review outdoor reporter and columnist.
“No one should be called a ‘poacher’ who self-reports what could be an honest mistake in the field – certainly not until all of the facts are in,” Landers posted on Facebook this morning.
Having dedicated a page or more of every issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine since at least early 2009 to covering the policing of the outdoors through The Dishonor Roll (as well as innumerable posts on this blog), I tend to agree with Landers and typically refrain from applying that term to anybody who, as soon as they realize their mistake, set about contacting fish and wildlife officers to investigate.
Doing so indicates honesty, integrity and a strong regard for the rules and concepts of fair play and fair chase at places and times where it is otherwise relatively easy to get away with doing something illicit.
“I’ve worked with Brock a bit since he got this position. He’s struck me as competent, reliable, and very conservation minded,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “Sometimes ethical people make mistakes while hunting. Until the legitimate process runs its course, it’s underhanded to assume the worst.”
As for the dictionary, it defines a poacher as “a person who hunts or catches game or fish illegally.”
While quiet on the question of intent, in practice, there’s something of a spectrum, with poacher typically reserved more for those who willfully disregard the regulations, grossly exceed limits and/or wantonly waste fish or wildlife, among other actions.
For example, whoever shot three bull elk on the Palouse in late December – wildly outside any season and only for their heads – is a poacher.
The guy who in October allegedly killed a pair of deer inside city limits at night with a crossbow – in violation of myriad rules – is a poacher, a convicted one from a similar previous incident too.
The guy who in September allegedly unlawfully kept five wild prespawn coho caught with illegal gear while they were kegged up at the head of Discovery Bay, waters that also weren’t open for the harvest of unclipped silvers, is a poacher.
The guy who late one night last summer tried to make off with 135 Dungeness crabs, including 95 illegal-to-keep females and a number of too-short males, is a poacher.
The guy who in November was apparently so tempted by game wardens’ spike elk decoy set up in a three-point-minimum unit that, despite being warned, “It’s a decoy! Been there all morning!”, still snuck up on the faux wapiti, snapped off four shots, reloaded and winged three more its way before officers stopped him, is a poacher.
Those who unlawfully steal game and fish out of season or in-season from lawful, properly licensed hunters and anglers are poachers.
And those who took wildlife management upon themselves last year to poison eight wolves in Northeast Oregon are poachers.
This is far from an exhaustive list, and there are shades of gray, but let me be clear: I am not here to defend anybody who violates the fish and game regulations, willfully or otherwise. That would make me my Dishonor Roll’s Jackass of the Month.
Nor am I slamming Francovich’s reporting. This is newsworthy as hell. Charged with unlawful hunting of big game in the second degree, Hoenes faces a maximum of a year in jail and $5,000 fine, though both are unlikely.
Yet I agree with Landers, the retired reporter, that the push behind how the news got out requires additional context beyond what Eli included.
“What we see here is the result of the anti-hunting campaign that has been subtly emerging in Washington, including anti-hunter appointments to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission,” stated Landers. “This story and its reference to ‘poaching’ was spawned by the shrill voice of Washington Wildlife First, ‘a newly formed advocacy group aimed at reforming WDFW.’ The group considers managed hunting to be ‘reckless consumption over responsible conservation.’ Expect to hear more of this shrill voice in the future. It’s well funded.”
[Editor’s note: The above-mentioned “anti-hunter appointments” to the commission actually had a hand in authorizing the harvest of hundreds of thousands of deer, elk, bears, moose, upland birds and more when they voted for the 2021-23 hunting package last April, but point taken, as we’ll see below.]
The “shrill voice” – actually a collective of highly litigious, preservationist-oriented organizations that see fertile ground in Washington for their wider goals; for instance, banning all bear hunting in California – has been constantly chivvying Governor Inslee to name “reform-minded” appointments to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, as well as the citizen panel and WDFW over wildlife and predator management for several years now.
They attempted to use an agency audit published last September as a springboard for their campaign, but it may have been derailed in part when Commissioner Fred Koontz abruptly resigned after facing withering criticism over the panel’s vote against the 2022 spring bear hunt, despite no real conservation concerns over the bruin population, managers’ and biologists’ recommendation to approve the season, and the agency’s opportunity mandate, and his statements on Blue Mountains elk objectives.
That makes this latest incident something of a windfall.
While the accusations against Hoenes absolutely deserve their day in court and I’ll report on them, the purposeful funneling of the charges against him to the media amount to a dangerous escalation for all parties.
It certainly should not be rewarded whatsoever by the Governor’s Office, and in fact should be graded against.
As I’ve been reporting since this time last year and Koontz and Lorna Smith’s appointments, it is a critical, critical time to pay attention to all things WDFW and commission.