Culver man sentenced for poaching bull trout on Metolius River

A Culver man was sentenced Monday to five years probation and banned from hunting and fishing for “flagrant and repeated” poaching of bull trout, a protected and Tribally significant fish species.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eugene announced the sentencing for 29-year-old Thomas R. Campbell

“One of the most solemn duties of the U.S. Attorney’s office is enforcing the laws for the protection of our threatened wildlife and upholding our special trust relationship with our tribal partners,” said U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams. “This case demonstrates our priorities in exercising those duties and holding accountable those who would flagrantly disregard our nation’s laws that protect threatened species.”

According to court documents, on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018, Campbell poached bull trout from the Metolius River, fishing from both U.S. Forest Service lands and while trespassing on the “Eyerly Property,” which was held in trust by the United States for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Campbell also encouraged others to do the same, Williams said.

The Metolius River requires catch-and-release for all species of fish, including bull trout.

Although one can legally angle for bull trout on the Metolius River and in Lake Billy Chinook, bull trout are not legal to target elsewhere in Oregon.  This makes the Metolius River one of the Oregon’s crown gems of angling.

Campbell targeted, kept, and grossly mishandled bull trout despite admittedly knowing the laws protecting the species and how to properly handle fish to immediately release unharmed, Williams said.

He also committed these crimes despite numerous warnings from public viewers of his social media boasts about his poaching.

Campbell repeatedly posted photos of his bull trout poaching exploits to his social media platforms where he had more than 1,000 followers.

“Bull trout are an iconic species of the Pacific Northwest whose populations are suffering from habitat degradation, and are protected by Tribal, State and Federal laws,” said James Ashburner, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The defendants in this case caused great harm to the recovery efforts of all of the government and non-government groups who have invested in the recovery of this species.”

Bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The species has been depleted by a range of factors, including overfishing.  Today, bull trout inhabit less than half of their historic range.

Central Oregon’s Metolius River helps serve as a prized spawning ground, and it is used to help repopulate other waters where bull trout numbers have dwindled even lower.

These magnificent fish are revered by anglers and are a cherished Tribal resource.

Poaching represents a lethal threat to their recovery.

In August, Campbell pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges related to knowingly acquiring and transporting bull trout from the Metolius River in the Deschutes National Forest and from Warm Springs’ Tribal land.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Campbell to five years of federal probation and banned him from angling or hunting anywhere in the United States as a condition of probation.

In addition, Aiken ordered Campbell to pay a $6,000 criminal fine to the Lacey Act Reward Fund and $649.95 in restitution to the Oregon State Police for his destruction of a trail camera designed to catch poachers.

Campbell was also ordered to perform 300 hours of community service with a non-profit focused on conservation or with a collaborative relationship with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

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