KENNEWICK — An elk and deer poaching spree in Eastern Oregon has earned a Pendleton man a felony sentence under a new state law.
Walker Dean Erickson, 28, has been ordered to pay $75,000 in fines and serve two weeks in jail for each of the next three years during elk hunting season.
He has permanently lost his right to buy a hunting license.
“Elk season is now jail season,” said Jay Hall, wildlife anti-poaching resources prosecutor for Oregon. Hall, who is an assistant attorney general with the Oregon Department of Justice, prosecuted the case on behalf of the Umatilla County District Attorney’s office.
The case is the first significant application of new sentencing guidelines passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2019. House Bill 3035 allows prosecutors to elevate poaching crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Former Oregon state Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said the bill was meant to “curb the wanton slaughter of animals for trophy racks, out-of-state money for hire, spree killing or repeated violations.”
“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.
Erickson pleaded guilty to 22 charges, including illegally killing deer and elk, leaving game animals to waste and trespassing. His actions were over more than a year, leading officials to declare the case a “crime spree.”
In the summer of 2020 the Oregon State Police opened the case after receiving a call to the Turn In Poachers, or TIP, line.
A search warrant was served at Erickson’s home in December 2021 and among items seized were three sets of elk antlers, one of them from the trophy animal. Also seized were six sets of deer antlers, a rifle, a bow and meat.
8 elk, plus deer poached
In total Walker poached eight Rocky Mountain elk and six white tail and mule deer, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Evidence in the case starts with Erickson illegally shooting two cow elk and three white tail bucks over about two weeks from Dec. 13, 2020, to Jan. 3, 2021.
The spree continued in August and September of 2021, including the shooting of a trophy-size bull elk with seven antler points on each side of its head on Sept. 30.
Indictments linked to the start of the two months include wasting meat from a deer and an elk on Aug. 4.
Two days later Erickson was accused of shooting a young bull elk with its antlers still in velvet.
As the poaching spree of deer and elk continued in September, he also was accused of wasting the meat from another trophy elk and shooting the animal while criminally trespassing on private land.
When he shot two deer in late 2021, he hunted from a vehicle, according to court documents.
Elk was a top trophy animal
The $75,000 fine he must pay includes $15,000 for the 7×7 bull elk, $15,000 for the 6×5 bull elk and $7,500 for a 4×4 mule deer buck.
The 7×7 bull elk would be the top trophy in any hunter’s collection, according to Hall.
Erickson was required to turn over the rifle and bow that were seized at his house and turn over a freezer full of meat to be used by the Blue Mountain Wildlife center in Pendleton for its raptor rescue and rehabilitation program.
Poaching deprives people enjoying Oregon’s wildlife, whether they are hunting them, photographing them or viewing them, said Bernadette Graham-Hudson, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Wildlife Division Manager.
The agency knows of nearly 5,000 animals that were poached in Oregon in 2022, threatening Oregon’s fish and wildlife population, said Yvonne Shaw, coordinator of the Turn In Poachers campaign.
Report suspected poaching in Oregon to the Turn In Poachers, or TIP, line at 800-452-7888 or email TIP@osp.oregon.gov.