In August, the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife division named Alexander Hayes, a deputy district attorney in Clackamas County, its “Prosecutor of the Year.” Hayes has been with the district attorney’s office for nearly four years, specializing in prosecuting cases involving illegal hunting and poaching. In one of his first cases with the county, he secured convictions against three individuals who had illegally baited and killed bears in eastern Clackamas County. In 2019, he worked with law enforcement investigators to stop a poaching operation involving sturgeon that was being illegally fished from the Willamette River and sold to local restaurants. Hayes joins us to talk about the challenges and rewards of prosecuting wildlife crimes.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, This is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. We end today with the Oregon District Attorneys Association’s “Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year.” Alexander Hayes is a deputy DA in Clackamas County. He was singled out for his work prosecuting poaching cases involving bear and sturgeon. The award is given in partnership with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police’s Fish and Wildlife Division. Alexander Hayes, congratulations and welcome to Think Out Loud.
Alexander Hayes: Hey, thank you so much and thank you for the opportunity to be on the show with you.
Dave Miller: How did you get interested in prosecuting poaching cases?
Hayes: I think it started at a young age when I had just kind of this inherent desire to hunt fish. And throughout my time at University of Idaho, where I went to law school, I had the opportunity to kind of grow on that. And then that was expanded upon when I had the opportunity, when I got hired on here at Clackamas County, to take on the specialty of prosecuting fish and wildlife crimes.
Dave Miller: Let’s turn to one of the prosecutions that you worked on. Can you tell us about the bear baiting case?
Hayes: Yeah. So, we’ve had multiple cases over the years that we prosecuted in Clackamas County that deal with the unlawful taking of bear. But there’s generally a case that stands out and that was individuals were caught baiting and illegally killing bears over bait, which is prohibited here in the state of Oregon.
Dave Miller: I should actually stop you one second, what does it mean to bait a bear?
Hayes: Great question. So baiting a bear, bears are, depending on the time of the year, are difficult to hunt, especially in the fall when they essentially go nocturnal. And so one way that individuals have attempted to induce bears into coming in, is setting out food that attracts black bears, which is the species that we have here in Oregon. And it involves individuals using multiple different types of attractants. Bears are attracted to garbage or other food with a kind of a stench. And that’s generally what we see, are individuals using food that has a strong odor. And because bears have such a strong sense of smell, that brings them in.
Dave Miller: Why is bear baiting illegal? What’s wrong with it?
Hayes: There’s some ethical connotations around baiting bears. And so it’s not here in Oregon, specifically in some states, it is permitted, but it’s not a bear chase. It doesn’t allow the animal to essentially have a fair opportunity, right? And so when individuals are up in the tree stand or maybe on the ground in the ground line, they’re essentially sitting there and waiting.
Dave Miller: Unlike the fair opportunity…
Hayes: Exactly, yeah. They’re waiting for the bear to fall into its natural desire to find and locate food.
Dave Miller: What kind of a relationship do you have with investigators, with police officers who are assigned, as wildlife police officers, say through the state police? What kind of a relationship do you have with them to be able to get a prosecutable case?
Hayes: The relationship that I have with the Oregon State Fish and Game troopers is exceptional. And the basis of that relationship comes from me being the assigned deputy district attorney that takes those fish and wildlife cases. Because of that, we’ve had the opportunity to build relationships and it’s a two way street and we’re able to communicate and maybe bounce ideas back and forth on what would assist in this specific investigation or what else we need. And they are a great group of law enforcement officers that are dedicated to preserving the natural resources here in Oregon.
Dave Miller: You’ve also worked on sturgeon poaching cases for a few years now. What’s at stake in terms of sturgeon poaching, in particular?
Hayes: Sturgeon are such an important part of the streams and rivers here in Clackamas County and the real stake is losing them. So it takes generally, on average, approximately 18 years for a female sturgeon to be able to spawn and reproduce. And so the regulation around sturgeon is, can be complex. But the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have come up with certain regulations to protect sturgeon, for that specific reason. And so when we have individuals unlawfully taking and killing these fish that may, almost are that age to reproduce or to spawn, that’s removing animals, specifically sturgeon, that are necessary to continue the livelihood of sturgeon here in our fishing, here in our streams.
Dave Miller: What could hunters or anglers or just hikers, anybody recreating in Oregon, what could they look out for? What are some obvious or frequent signs of poaching?
Hayes: That’s a great question. Interestingly, a lot of our cases come from or start with a tip from an outdoors person, someone who’s fishing or hunting lawfully. And there will be red flags, whether you’re out on the river hunting or whether you’re out in the woods hunting, because the individuals that are recreating generally go out of their way to ensure that they are in compliance with the regulation. And so my advice would be if you see individuals who are clearly violating any regulation, that’s set, right, whether you’re fishing or whether you’re hunting, to immediately turn that information over to the appropriate officials and there’s the ‘Turn in Poachers’ program. There’s also a non-emergency State Police line that they can call as well. But some of that may be, if they know that the season is closed, and there are individuals out hunting or if they know that there are a specific species that you’re not allowed to not only fish for, but maintain possession of, such as sturgeon. If they see that I would recommend that they turn that in immediately.
Dave Miller: Alexander Hayes, thanks very much. Alexander Hayes is a deputy DA in Clackamas County. And he was this year’s recipient of the Oregon District Attorneys Association’s “Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year”.
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