'$5,250? That's enough for someone to talk'

    A black-tailed deer carcass with its antlers and skull cap hacked away is tossed off the side of Antioch Road near Sams Valley, a wildlife crime disgusting enough to bring together two of the most unlikely bedfellows — the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

    The poaching case, discovered last week, is under investigation by Oregon State Police. But with no real leads, solving it could be a longshot.

    That's where the OHA and HSUS come in.

    The groups have combined to put up $5,250 in reward money — $5,000 of it from HSUS — for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the poacher or poachers. They're betting that's enough money to loosen a few lips — maybe enough for someone with an eye on a new driftboat to turn in his outlaw in-law without anyone knowing who tipped off the cops.

    The OHA and the Humane Society are long-time political polar opposites who can agree on one thing — illegal wildlife killing is a horror they both want to abate.

    The groups put up the reward money through OHA's Turn In Poachers, or TIP, program and HSUS's Wildlife Land Trust.

    One call to 1-800-452-7888 could lead to checks from both organizations, which have no other shared constituency.

    "It's one of the few things — or only thing — you'll see us working on with the OHA," says Scott Beckstead, HSUS's Oregon state director.

    "Any time someone who's been a political adversary on so many cases steps on the boat with you, there's that natural reaction to wonder what's going on and what's up their sleeve," says Duane Dungannon, secretary of the OHA.

    "If they're legitimately interested in looking out for wildlife, that's a good way to spend their money," Dungannon says.

    Spending money to nab poachers is the mission of TIP, which began in the mid-1980s. Originally funded by OHA and optics giant Leupold & Stevens, it has amassed a war chest of about $50,000, largely from restitution orders requested by district attorneys and rewarded by judges in big-game poaching cases.

    "We have so many judges and DAs on board that the poachers pretty much are policing themselves," Dungannon says.

    Standard rewards are $100 for salmon and steelhead cases, $250 for deer cases and $500 for elk and sheep cases. Troopers write a poaching citation and the checks get cut, with the informant afforded anonymity if desired.

    In 2013, OHA paid $15,725 in TIP rewards in 44 cases, ranging from deer and elk to steelhead and even shellfish poaching, according to records of the OHA, which reported a 2013 headquarters operating budget of about $751,000.

    The Humane Society, which normally gets wind of poaching cases through OSP and TIP, paid out two $2,500 rewards last year on Oregon deer cases, including a poached fawn in Douglas County, HSUS records show.

    The Humane Society of the U.S., a nonprofit fueled by private donations, reported a $165.8 million operating budget in 2013. It is now offering $5,000 in poaching cases. It pays only upon conviction and not just for a citation.

    When these adversaries join forces, their collective volume gets people talking who otherwise wouldn't.

    "Well, $250 for a deer case isn't that spicy to turn in your cousin or neighbor," says OSP Senior Trooper Jim Collom, who oversees the OSP side of TIP. "But $5,250? That's enough for someone to talk, even testify."

    That's certainly the point in the Sams Valley case, where a landowner on July 2 discovered the remains of the blacktail buck killed and dumped there, sans antlers and skull.

    No doubt the poacher will stash the antlers until late fall, when he or she can claim it as a legit kill.

    Hunters despise this scenario, and would rather see the poacher tell it to the judge instead of a legit hunter — even if it means financial help from a sworn foe.

    "I wish they'd spend all their money on rewards to stop poaching," Dungannon says.

    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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