Fighting Crime and Protecting Wildlife: Meet K-9 Buck

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SPRINGFIELD — Meet Oregon’s first-of-its-kind wildlife detection team: Buck, a three-year-old yellow lab, and his handler, Trooper Josh Wolcott. The duo work for the Oregon State Police’s Fish and Wildlife Division, traveling around the state to protect Oregon’s natural resources, catch poachers, and detect wildlife crimes. 

Buck and Trooper Wolcott — currently the state’s only wildlife detection K-9 team — are part of a program created in partnership between The Oregon Wildlife Foundation and Oregon State Police. The program’s vision included adding a wildlife protection K-9 to OSP’s Fish and Wildlife Division as a way to help Troopers catch poachers and detect wildlife crimes. Once Trooper Wolcott heard about the program, he knew he had to apply.

K-9 Buck acting photogenic for the camera, between solving crimes.

“I always wanted to work with a K-9, and I have worked with a couple of bird dogs before. I truly believe in the value a K-9 can make regarding our work. That has always been of interest to me.”

Trooper Wolcott comes from a long line of public servants, “My Grandfather was a homicide detective, and I am the fourth generation to go into public service. I was in the military prior to joining the State Police, I just always had a willingness to get out there and make some sort of a difference.”

A desire for making a difference meant Wolcott was excited to embark on this new program designed to protect the beauty and bounty of Oregon — and it all started with a trip to Washington. In November of 2018, Wolcott drove from his home base in Lane County up to Washington to pick out his new partner-in-solving-crime. There, after testing multiple dogs, he met Buck and knew he was the one for the job.

Initial Training

The relationship between a handler and a K-9 is critical to the success of their work together. “Buck lived with me all up until the end of January (2019). Then we jumped in a Chevy Tahoe and drove across the country to French Lick, Indiana. That’s where our training took place.”

“That training was a total of 9 weeks. I trained with Game Wardens around the country. People from Virginia, Utah, Kansas, and Indiana were there. We had about a week of training just in how human scent works. Then we had tracking training, detection training, and training in area search.”

Each of those pieces of training relates to the different piece of ‘work’ Buck can do. As a wildlife protection K-9, Buck is tasked with various jobs to recover evidence to solve a case.

But it wasn’t all work and no play, “We graduated towards the middle to end of May, but we had a couple of breaks from over there. What we would do is, I would leave the Tahoe at the fire station in Indiana, and Buck and I would fly commercial back. He liked the window seat, he loves to fly, and he likes the people!”

While Buck and Wolcott may be certified from their 9-week training in Indiana, they continue their training to keep Buck’s skills in tip-top shape. 

“Once we got back from the initial training, we had maintenance training for the most part. I train 8 hours a week with Buck, in all three different phases. That training will continue throughout his life.”

Getting Right to Work

From the get-go, Buck was already solving crimes.

Buck on the job in Oregon’s wilderness.

 “On our first day back, we helped work on an officer-involved shooting case in Lane County. We were able to locate evidence; he located some of the suspect’s items that helped link him to a particular area. Buck can find firearms and shell casings, so we utilized him to search the scene to locate further evidence. He is a resource for our wildlife, but also for some pretty serious person crimes as well.”

“While Buck’s major role is to solve wildlife crimes, he can help us in so many ways, situational dependent, of course. Whether that is locating evidence that we may not be able to find or see, or it cuts down the time on finding evidence. Evidence deteriorates over time, and it is important to find that evidence as quick as possible.”

K-9s are  invaluable for  expanding an officer’s toolkit to locate evidence and help solve crimes. While on the job investigating wildlife crimes, Buck was able to help solve cases such as a poached prized bull elk, to working an Antelope season.

“He was able to locate a poached bull elk; he alerted me to the downed elk which got that investigation up and going. Previously, we worked an antelope season down near lakeview. He helped me work a case I would not have been able to put together without K-9 Buck.”

One of the reasons wildlife crimes are so difficult is that they often take place in rural parts of the state, where troopers have to cover a lot of ground to find evidence to solve a crime. Luckily, Buck has a helpful piece of equipment: a GPS collar.  

“What’s really neat is he wears a GPS collar. When we are working in a very large area, he needs a break just like we do, of course. When he is taking a break from work to rebuild, I can download that GPS onto the computer. When I download that, I can overlay that on the map, so we don’t waste time and energy searching the same area again. The GPS collar really allows for a good search. That’s probably one of his most important pieces of equipment.”

Just like his handler Trooper Wolcott, Buck also has other equipment to help him do his job. “He does three different types of work, for each type of work is associated to a specific piece of equipment, whether that’s a snap collar or a harness, when we are tracking or have even a specific lead with a metallic sound. We try to give a specific sound to a command to help the dog understand what we want him to do since he is trained to do three different things.”

When asked if there are any challenges to the job, he says, “It’s important to remember, you are working with a living breathing thing that has good days and bad days. That’s every K-9 handler’s challenge.”

Buck Does More Than Solve Crime

Buck and Trooper Josh Wolcott.

While Buck’s keen sense of smell is invaluable in solving wildlife crimes, he also has another key role—public relations. Oregon State Police’s Fish and Wildlife Division can’t be all around the state at once, so they have to rely on the public to report any crimes they encounter or hear about. K-9 Buck plays an essential role in spreading awareness to the public.

“I think public relations is just as important as when we are out there working a case. When people hear about our work, that’s more eyes and ears for us. Which means more people are likely to call something in that doesn’t seem right, more than they may have before.”

K-9 Program Mostly Funded By Donations

While this is Oregon’s first of its kind program, this work could not have started without the help of the public and community partners. 

“Oregon Wildlife Foundation funded the initial startup of the program. People donate through them to our program.” The K-9 program is mostly funded through donations; that covers veterinary care and anything else that relates to the K-9.

The K-9 Program has received some general fund dollars, but, “It’s those donated dollars that allows us to get out there and really make a difference. We would not have been able to do what we are able to without people donating to the Oregon State Police Wildlife K-9 Program.”

About Author

Efren Zamudio is a Strategic Communications Summer Fellow in the Office of Governor Kate Brown.

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