Woman sentenced for illegal elk hunt near Forks

FORKS — A Quileute tribal member has been sentenced on three criminal charges related to illegally hunting a nine-point bull elk on private West End property Oct. 25, 2015.

West End District Court 2 Judge John Doherty on Nov. 19 sentenced Rochelle L. Warner, 39, of Lacey to 200 hours of community service in lieu of 25 days in jail, imposing a mandatory $2,000 fine and $743 in legal fines and obligations.

Doherty also ordered that the bolt-action Remington 700 rifle that Warner used to dispatch the elk must be forfeited. The elk she shot was transported to Forks and donated to charity.

Doherty had ruled Aug. 29 — nine months after a Nov. 22, 2017, bench trial — that Warner was guilty of two counts of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game, a gross misdemeanor, and unlawful hunting on the property of another without permission, a misdemeanor.

The property owner was land owner Ted Spoelstra, who died after the hunting incident at age 98 and was a former logger, community philanthropist and “West End legend,” Doherty said.

“Requesting to hunt Spoelstra’s property was a right of passage for many Forks area as well as out of town residents,” Doherty said.

Port Angeles lawyer William Payne has appealed the conviction and is seeking to stay the sentence, he said.

The appeal was filed Nov. 20 in Clallam County Superior Court.

No court hearings had been scheduled in the case as of Monday, Superior Court Administrator Lacey Fors said.

Payne said Warner had claimed she was hunting on the tribe’s usual-and-accustomed hunting area, while Doherty said in his ruling that Warner had two different accounts of the hunt, only one of which was buttressed by witnesses.

“He made his ruling, and we are appealing it,” Payne said Monday.

In his four-page Aug. 29 ruling, Doherty said Warner first told a state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer that she and her hunting companion had obtained the permission of Spoelstra.

Spoelstra denied allowing her to hunt on his property and was not in Forks on the day the elk was killed, Doherty said.

Warner said she and her companion parked near Klahn Road, where Spoelstra’s property is located, the morning of Oct. 25, 2015, and walked north through Spoelstra’s property, on which she shot the elk, according to Hillman’s report.

They were gutting the animal when they were confronted by a neighbor, who contacted authorities, Hillman said.

The companion had a valid hunting license and modern firearms tag, Hillman said.

Warner had a Quileute tribal ID card and said her tag was on the elk.

Doherty said that at Warner’s trial, Warner said she and her companion parked on Klahn Road and walked east to the Sol Duc River, which borders Spoelstra’s property.

“She relates that they contacted an elk herd in the river, where she shot one elk, which then crossed the river and ran into Spoelstra’s managed timber,” Doherty said in his ruling.

“When the elk was contacted on Spoelstra’s property, she shot once, perhaps once more, dispatching the animal.”

The neighbor who contacted authorities said when he confronted the hunters, they told him the pair had followed the elk across the river, according to Hillman’s report.

“[The neighbor] stated that he didn’t believe that they had because their pants were dry,” Hillman said.

“The version of travel given by Ms. Warner to Officer Hillman at the kill scene is directly controverted by her testimony under oath at trial,” Doherty said in his ruling.

“It is incongruous for Ms. Warner to claim she had no knowledge she was on ‘private property’ and therefore contend she was privileged to be there by her tribal affiliation, and yet seek permission and further contend she had obtained it,” he said.

Hillman said the hunters returned to the property the Sunday after the incident and Warner “apologized for the incident,” the caretaker of Spoelstra’s property told Hillman.

Doherty noted Warner’s apology in his ruling.

Hillman said that once he seized the elk and Warner’s rifle and told her that the incident would be investigated, she told him she was hunting legally under tribal regulations.

“I advised her that the tribal regulations did not extend to private property and that she then fell under state regulations,” Hillman said.

Hillman said in his report that pursuant to the Treaty of Olympia, the Quileute Tribe has the right to hunt and promulgate hunting regulations for its members “on open and unclaimed lands within their ceded lands.”

The location of the elk falls within the overall area of ceded lands, Hillman said.

But the state Supreme Court has ruled that those treaty rights “do not apply to land in private ownership upon which outward indications of such ownership are observable to a reasonable person.”

Spoelstra’s land “is partially fenced and is generally distinct in appearance from publicly held timberlands,” Hillman said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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