Four Columbia Falls men charged with poaching
A poaching investigation in northwest Montana leads to a combined total of more than 100 charges against four men.
The alleged incidents took place at three different locations in Whitefish over the course of two years from 2011 to 2012.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks wouldn't answer specific questions Wednesday, because the case is still being prosecuted.
People around town are calling it one of the most extensive poaching investigations they can remember.
Court documents tell us that 19-year-olds Paul West, Tyler Kellar, Dillan Erickson and 20-year-old Chase Wilson all committed many wildlife violations.
The charges include waste of game animal, using artificial light to shoot animals, and hunting during a closed season.
On October 9, they all pleaded not guilty to all charges in Flathead County Justice Court.
"I think they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Dave Toelke. Toelke is the manager of Snappy’s Sport Senter. He’s been hunting the woods of Montana since he was 12.
At his job, he talks with many hunters daily, and knows how serious poaching is.
"It's frowned upon because what it does is it steals a resource from the legitimate hunters, the legal hunters that are out there,” Toelke said. “What they're doing is limiting the other opportunities for the other hunters that are trying to go out there and do it legally."
Toelke says while he's upset to hear about charges like this, he understands that poaching cases can be difficult for law enforcement to prove.
"I think our laws are just fine but, as this case demonstrates, poachers are hard to catch because we have limited resources," said Toelke.
FWP officials are also investigating another poaching incident in the Dillon Road area, where the four Columbia Falls men are accused of doing some of their poaching.
Anyone with information on this or any poaching incident is urged to call and report it. You may be eligible for a $1,000 reward if it leads to a conviction.
You can call 1-800-TIP-MONT to report an incident.