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WDFW Enforcement is divided into two patrol sections, Marine and Land, although responsibilities often overlap and the two sections commonly assist each other. The following are real life events that provide a snapshot of fish and wildlife enforcement activity in Washington State. These examples show the diversity of issues that Fish and Wildlife Police Officers ("Game Wardens") encounter while protecting your natural resources, but are by no means all encompassing of our many accomplishments. All violations are considered alleged unless a conviction has been secured.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekly Enforcement Highlights

Metal Heads
Not to be confused with followers of a heavy metal band, there is an emerging culture of thieves focused on lifting metal from wherever their sticky fingers can find it. Soaring prices have made everything from copper wire to sprinkler heads attractive to those struggling with methamphetamine addiction. Many of these thefts are large scale, with incredible damage and monetary impact to the victims. Unfortunately, the impact is often felt by outdoorsmen as well, as frustrated land owners lock up their property and no longer allow public access.

Our Officers have been proactive in fostering goodwill from land owners by investigating these kinds of cases. For example, in 2011 our Officers assisted the Grant County Sheriff’s Office with serving a search warrant on a 300+ acre ranch north of Quincy that was being used as a stolen property drop point. The suspects were manufacturing methamphetamine and were also linked to the theft of large amounts of metal, farm equipment and wire. Officers also discovered what appeared to be several homemade bombs in one of the outbuildings, resulting in a halt to the search and a call to the bomb squad.

More recently, Officer Snyder was checking waterfowl hunters at the Potholes Wildlife Area when he drove up on a man holding a lighted piece of newspaper in his hand, about to torch off a load of copper wire. The object is to melt the plastic housing off of the wire so that it is marketable and can’t be traced back to its origin. In this case, the wire was sitting in a 50 gallon drum soaked in gasoline.

The man was taken into custody after Officer Snyder learned that he had four outstanding warrants for his arrest, totaling over $51,000 in bail. The man was transported to jail while Captain Anderson and Grant County Sheriff's Deputy Granger processed the scene along with the suspect's vehicle. Another Deputy advised the Officers on scene that he had received a call the previous day about a man driving the same kind of vehicle who was possibly involved in a wire theft north of Moses Lake. Interestingly, the license plate did not return to a registered owner. Without the vigilance of Officer Snyder, that theft would have likely gone unresolved. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office is now pursuing the theft investigation and attempting to locate a victim. Officer Snyder will be charging the suspect with driving while his license privileges were revoked and illegal dumping.

Not So Minor Details
Sergeant Phillips was on patrol in the snow along the Suiattle River Road when he contacted a vehicle with two tribal deer hunters. After noticing a rifle covered with a coat in between the hunters, Sgt. Phillips asked if it was loaded.  The driver was adamant that the gun was not loaded.  He slightly opened the breech of the .22 caliber pump action rifle and slammed it shut... BANG! The gun went off. The discharged round entered the truck's firewall and missed the passenger.  Once the two cleaned their drawers and everyone checked themselves for injuries, they were separated from the rifle. The four shells in the gun were unloaded, the damage was documented, and a citation was issued.

Waterfowl Emphasis
Mother Nature wreaked havoc on Washington State with cold temperatures, snow, ice and freezing rain the week before last. With power outages and vehicle accidents, most folks chose to stay home. But waterfowl hunters are a hardy breed, and knowing that inclement weather means good hunting, many braved the elements for a little duck pate’.

Officers  were also out in the elements making sure regulations were followed. Our Fish and Wildlife Officers and two USFWS Officers conducted waterfowl hunting emphasis patrol in Franklin, Walla Walla, Benton and Yakima Counties, as well as parts of the Yakama Indian Reservation. While most hunters were successful in their hunt and in following the laws, officers did make cases for illegally hunting with the aid of bait, hunting without licenses, unplugged shotguns and possession of a loaded shotgun in a motor vehicle.

While the Cat's Away...
When we leave our homes and property behind to partake in well-earned vacations, there is always some worry that everything will be secure: Did I leave a light on? Should I have left the cat outside? Sure, it’s always best to have a neighbor keep an eye out for potential mischief to maintain that peace of mind, but even with the best of planning, bad things can happen...

Such was the case when Sergeant Erhardt spotted a vehicle partially submerged at the south end of Moses Lake. The late model H2 had broken through six inches of ice, abandoned with the keys still in the ignition. Officers were unable to contact the registered owner by phone, so the residence was checked. Deputies arrived at the residence to find the doors open and nobody home. It appeared that the house had been burglarized while the family was away for the holiday weekend. What a lousy welcome home! However, Sgt. Erhardt’s actions prevented additional loss of property as local law enforcement was able to secure the property until the owner's returned from vacation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Shellfish Heist - Busted!

This particular ongoing case isn’t just about  introducing poached shellfish into local and out-of-state markets, it also involves a real risk to public safety. The investigation began in 2010 with a tip from a shellfish shipper. His supplier was up to no good - some of his customers had reportedly gotten sick from eating oysters.

At the center of the stage is Rodney Clark, owner of G&R Quality Seafoods in Quilcene Bay, who allegedly orchestrated the theft of more than $700,000 worth of oysters and clams from public and private beaches in the Hood Canal area. The poachers took advantage of the cover of darkness, stealing from whichever beach held enough product for a profitable outing. Law enforcement personnel were forced to spend many long nights tracking their movements, sometimes in weather so horrible nobody in their right mind should have been outside in it. But then, the poachers weren’t in their right minds. Greed and money almost forced our team to switch to search and rescue mode during surveillance as they watched a barge full of stolen shellfish flip over in a storm. But the thieves were able to swim to shore….. wet, cold, and lucky. The product was then laundered with the aid of falsified paperwork and widely marketed.

In the shellfish industry, paperwork and record keeping practices are crucial. In order to commercially harvest shellfish, proof of beach or product ownership must be provided to the Department of Health. DOH issues an operator’s license and a certification number unique to the beach you wish to harvest – provided, of course, the shellfish have been tested and are free from contaminants or pollutants. The issued certification number tracks the product back to its origin and follows each sack or container of shellfish through the entire market place. If an illness or outbreak occurs, the product is pulled from shelves and is easily traced back to the offending beach, which can then be shut down...

If the paperwork is falsified, however, the ability to trace the shellfish back to its beach is effectively defeated, sending health officials on a potential goose chase. Clams and oysters in this case came from beaches that could have been certified if there was a lawful claim. Since it was all stolen, an alternate certification number associated with a played out lease was used instead.

Shellfish don’t have to come from unsanitary waters to be toxic to humans. Handling and refrigeration is also critical to ensuring people don’t get sick. Our observation was that these folks didn’t care. The poachers' luck ran out as investigators closed in. Armed with probable cause that was painstakingly developed under challenging conditions, WDFW Police served a search warrant at the home and business of Mr. Clark. Clams and oysters with false certification tags were found on the property in the back of a van with no refrigeration.

This is not Clark's first run-in with the law. He has already served a ten-year prison sentence in the Montana Penitentiary for manufacture of narcotics. Clark was carted away to jail for possession of firearms as a convicted felon, as the investigation really got underway. Reams of files were analyzed, other suspects were interviewed, and markets were identified and contacted. After months of work, the King County Prosecutor's Office charged Clark and 11 employees with theft and trafficking in stolen property. On November 22, 2011, Clark faced 17 felony charges and a potential of seven years in prison if convicted. The case is now awaiting trial.

Please Note:
By law, harvested uncertified clams must be destroyed to prevent them from entering the market place. Here, an officer is seen dumping the stolen shellfish at a landfill. What a waste!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Leave the Beach "Happy As A Clam"

Whether you like them fried, frittered, or in a bowl of chowder, razor clams are one popular bi-valve with clam connoisseurs! And many will end up on dinner plates (or bowls) in one form or another after the opening of clam digging on coastal beaches this weekend.
Before heading out to the beach in search of these tasty critters, however, make sure you're familiar with the rules. Here are the top four:
  • The limit is 15 clams per person per day.
  • You must retain every clam dug, regardless of size or condition (because many don’t survive if replaced).
  • Don’t drive on the razor clam beds (vehicle weight can crush them).
  • Buy a shellfish license or razor clam license before you head to the beach.
What We Look For:
Most folks play by the rules, some are tempted by opportunity, and others have well-planned schemes for cheating. But our Officers have seen every trick in the book, and can tell you where extra clams are likely to be hidden when folks decide to break the rules. Here's an example of a group who thought they could outsmart our Officers:
While patrolling the beach, Officers noticed a group of diggers that seemed to be on the beach far too long for the amount of time it takes most folks to get a limit. To add to their suspicion, Officer Anderson recognized the vehicle as being at another spot earlier in the tide. So Officer Hopkins checked the license plate and found that the registered owner had a $10,000 felony warrant for his arrest. Officers decided to contact the group and the man with the warrant was identified and taken into custody. 
While Officer Hopkins was dealing with the arrest, Officer Anderson began checking the other people in the group for licenses and limits.  By the time Officer Hopkins got the arrestee in the patrol vehicle, two of the others in the group had confessed to Officer Anderson about "two-tripping." 
Not to be confused with “two-stepping” or “two-timing," two-tripping is a Game Warden term that means exceeding limits by making multiple trips to the beach. The idea is to harvest a limit, hide them, change clothes and beach location, and harvest another limit. If you get checked, you're never over the daily bag limit……….unless we find the hidden clams from the previous trips. People will go to extraordinary efforts to pull this off, and the unlucky ones are tailed by Fish and Wildlife Officers. In this case, these folks lied about having two-tripped. Eventually, they lead our Officers to where the extra limits of clams were hidden. The group of four had dug about 90 razor clams that day. Several tickets were issued, and the man with the warrant was booked into jail by Officer Wickersham. 
The moral of this story: It is better to work hard and take home 15 clams, than to work even harder and take home 0 clams (and one or more tickets). 
SAFETY TIP: With all outdoor activities, it pays to be prepared. Digging clams this time of year requires proper clothing. And if you’re one of those who likes to dig in the surf, be extra careful. With the inclement offshore weather this time of the year, a big surf can add some personal safety challenges. Our Officers respond to many incidents where people get knocked down by a rogue wave, and although a razor clam is good eatin' it's not worth the loss of life.
Don't let poachers steal YOUR clams.
If you see illegal activity on the beach, let us know about it. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year Brings Tragedy To Mount Rainier

From WDFW Police Headquarters, Olympia

Nearly two weeks after National Park Service Ranger Margaret Anderson was gunned down in Mount Rainier National Park, her death still weighs heavily on the minds of our Fish and Wildlife Officers. While law enforcement officers who choose a career in policing the outdoors recognize the unique dangers that can present themselves while working alone in the isolated back country, Ranger Anderson’s death is yet another reminder of just how dangerous their job can be.

Following is a firsthand account of the roles of Fish and Wildlife Sergeant (Sgt.) Ted Holden and several other Fish and Wildlife Officers in the aftermath of Ranger Anderson’s shooting, and, in particular, in the manhunt for the lone gunman.

The remoteness of Washington State’s wild lands provides an attractive environment for those seeking a place to hide or conduct criminal activity. These remote areas also happen to be the Fish and Wildlife Officer’s patrol beat. The specialized skills and abilities that Fish and Wildlife Officers must possess to police the outdoors under challenging conditions are often sought by our law enforcement partners in times of need. The first day of the New Year was no exception.

“Rescuing a downed officer from a hostile scene is tough enough under the best of weather conditions, let alone near-zero temperatures, three feet of snow, and with a hell-bent gunman still hiding in the thick woods around you."

These are the words of Charles Remsberg, a Street Survival Instructor, addressing the challenges that confront officers who train in winter tactics through the Law Enforcement Mountain Operations School (LEMOS). And as reality would have it, that particular scene virtually mirrored what our Fish and Wildlife Officers faced as they joined other law enforcement  agencies in the hunt for National Park Service Ranger Margaret Anderson’s murderer on New Year’s Day 2012.

Many of our officers are formally trained in mountain survival and operations tactics and man-tracking. In Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Holden’s case, the training didn’t come from field exercises, but from three decades of pursuing poachers in the outdoors. Those experiences became critical on Mount Rainier as eight Fish and Wildlife Police Officers responded to the national park with their 4x4 patrol vehicles to assist in any way that they could.

Sgt. Holden was at the command post at Longmire when Sgt. Carpenter, Pierce County SWAT member, arrived with two of his team’s negotiators. Sgt. Holden volunteered to transport the three team members up to Paradise in his 4x4 patrol vehicle, because their vehicles weren’t equipped to traverse the snowy roadway to the scene, more than seven miles away. As Sgt. Holden was driving the Pierce County SWAT members to the scene, he observed the trail made by the escaped gunman, just north of Paradise Creek on Paradise Longmire Rd.

According to Sgt. Carpenter, Sgt. Holden exclaimed, “There’s the suspect’s trail!” Sgt. Holden pointed out a snow trail leading southeast into the woods from the road. Sgt. Carpenter asked Sgt. Holden if he was sure about the trail. Sgt. Holden firmly said, “I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, this is what I do. That’s the suspect’s trail.”

In the words of Sgt. Carpenter: “Sgt. Holden was firm, steadfast and convincing - it was apparent to me that he knew his stuff and I shouldn’t doubt it. Sgt Holden recognized the suspect’s trail and we needed to follow it...”

Sgt. Carpenter called for additional SWAT members to assist. They threw up a quick security perimeter while Sgt. Holden assisted the team in gearing up with snow shoes, which some of the team members had never seen up close before. The team then began a grueling track into the timber through deep snow-covered terrain, determined to find Ranger Anderson’s murderer before he could harm anyone else.

Nightfall added to the tactical disadvantages of the pursuers, and the track was suspended until daylight after all possible escape routes had been covered. Sgt. Holden remained with the SWAT team until the early hours of the next day, when he was directed to return to the command post. At daylight, Sgt. Carpenter and his team found the suspect, Benjamin Colton Barnes, dead in Paradise Creek two-tenths of a mile from where the team had deployed to follow the track. Evidence at the scene suggested that the suspect was easily within earshot, and possibly sight, of the team when they deployed from Sergeant Holden’s truck. The gunman had a scoped rifle and armor piercing rounds with him.

FBI Agents were directed to the area, where they positively identified the suspect and took control of the scene.

Sgt. Carpenter captured it best in a letter to Fish and Wildlife Police Chief Bruce Bjork:

"Had Sgt. Holden not recognized the initial trail and directed the SWAT Team to this location, I believe that the suspect may not have been found by now. The FBI SRT Team did not arrive until the next day when weather conditions got increasingly worse. The suspect’s body was undetectable by thermal imaging by the time we found him because his core temperature was the same as the water. There was also evidence at the scene, which suggested that we were in very close proximity to the suspect when we started the initial search. The suspect fled downstream from us where he later collapsed from exhaustion, hypothermia and drowned. The suspect’s weapon was located approximately 30 yards from his final resting location."

In addition to Sgt. Holden’s role in shuttling SWAT members to the scene, and ultimately identifying the gunmen’s trail into the snow-covered timber, several other Fish and Wildlife personnel responded and provided support and assistance at the scene.

Officer James Sympson was the first Fish and Wildlife Officer to arrive, and provided a defensive perimeter around the fallen NPS Ranger, who had been relocated to a safer secondary location near the shooting scene. Officer Sympson remained at this post for over ten hours. Officer Schroeder transported another SWAT team up the mountain in his patrol truck, while Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Ted Jackson and Officer Tony Leonetti assisted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office with evacuating visitors from the park. When evacuations were complete, fellow Fish and Wildlife Officers Chris Moszeter and Dustin Prater joined them in setting up a road block to stop the gunman from making it to Packwood, the nearest town. Officer Erik Olson covered the midnight shift at the roadblock. Police Chaplain Mike Neil also responded to the command post to be available to provide support and comfort to National Park Service personnel, visitors, and over 100 law enforcement officers who responded to the scene. He also served as a member of the National Park Service Critical Incident Team, and had the opportunity to meet with Ranger Anderson’s husband and parents privately.

While we mourn the loss of Ranger Margaret Anderson, we also must recognize the commitment, professionalism, and dedication of all of the law enforcement personnel who not only put their own lives on the line to capture her killer, but who protect the public each and every day. We can take comfort in knowing that this desperate gunman is no longer on the run, posing considerable risk to public and officer safety, and we can be extremely proud of our Fish and Wildlife Officers and their positive representation of WDFW Enforcement and the entire Department during this critical time.

“In winter, you not only have to worry about human adversaries, but the environment itself is your enemy. If they’re not managed right, either one can injure or kill you very quickly — or even worse, kill you very slowly.”

Steve Thomson, Director of Training
Law Enforcement Mountain Operations School

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Weekly Enforcement Highlights

WDFW Police Officers are drawn to isolated locations because some folks have the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" mentality. The "Father of Wildlife Management," Aldo Leopold, often preached outdoor ethics. He understood that if an individual needed a police presence to behave while in the wide open spaces, then that individual probably had a wide open opportunity to cheat. Fortunately, most folks share Mr. Leopold's vision of outdoor ethics, but for those who don’t, a meeting with one of our officers can fill the gap.

Drunken Hunter
Hunting waterfowl with a boat under motor power is illegal. However, Officer Fulton received several reports of hunters "power boating" ducks near Pasco on the Columbia River. Officer Fulton contacted the boat, which was occupied by three men, as it came to shore. The shooter was identified and his shotgun was seized as evidence. Now, not only was the shooter hunting without a license, using an unplugged shotgun (only shotguns capable of holding three shells are allowed) and in possession of lead shot (only non-toxic shot allowed), but he was also drunk. The operator of the vessel will be charged with reckless vessel operation and hunting with the aid of a vessel. Charges will be forwarded to the prosecutor next week.

"Caught" Doing Something Good: Many thanks to the two witnesses who went above and beyond the call of duty to give Officer Fulton enough information to locate and identify these careless and unethical hunters.

Treaty Sturgeon Violation
Sgt. Wickersham observed two tribal members working sturgeon setline gear upstream from Avery Park on The Dalles pool. While the season is open here for treaty Indian fishermen, sturgeon are managed through upper and lower size limits, so only fish falling between 43” and 54” (fork length) can be legally retained. Sgt. Wickersham and Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Police Sgt. Lamebull contacted the men after they were observed retaining many undersized fish. The men said they had not measured their sturgeon because they didn’t have a measuring tape, but they thought they were "close” to meeting the minimum size requirements. When asked what the legal size for sturgeon retention was, they didn’t know but thought they could retain any size for subsistence purposes. Only one was found to be of legal size and the other ten sturgeon were well under the minimum. The undersized fish were seized and photographed, then returned to the water, where several of them turned belly-up and stopped moving. Charges on these repeat offenders will be referred to the Klickitat County Prosecutor's Office. 

Smarter Than A Game Warden
Officer Bolton was patrolling the Columbia River shoreline to Bingen when he walked into an isolated spot with four subjects sturgeon fishing. One fisherman was in the process of constructing a marijuana cigar (yes, it was much larger than a cigarette) when Officer Bolton said hello. The subject turned over the dope, and claimed he didn't have identification, but proudly presented a fishing license. Something wasn’t quite right, so Officer Bolton questioned him further about his personal information on the license document. During questioning, a marijuana-induced amnesia apparently affected his recall, as the man not only forgot how to spell his name, but couldn't remember his date of birth. At that point, Officer Bolton convinced the subject that it might be a good idea to produce a valid identification card or driver's license. Finally snapping out of his dope coma, the subject produced his ID and admitted that the license belonged to someone else.

Armed Assault Thwarted
WDFW Police Officers  and other law enforcement agencies often form partnerships to get the job done. Joint training exercises and membership on task forces or special teams are common, and a necessary part of rural policing. Officer Snyder and two other team members were on their way to one such training exercise with the Moses Lake Tactical Response Team when real life events interrupted.

As he was driving, Officer Snyder witnessed a three-on-one assault, complete with face punching, in a parking lot. After activating his emergency lights, he rolled onto the scene and jumped out of his vehicle. The chase was on as two of the assailants ran. The remaining suspect, who apparently was not in as good of shape, decided to make a break for the getaway car. A pistol  brandished  during the assault was still in his hand as he jumped into an SUV. When Officer Snyder heard his partners yell "Gun! Gun! Gun!" he suspended the foot chase and provided cover for the other officers as they drew their service weapons. The suspect sped off, and Officer Snyder pursued him in his patrol truck. The bad guy managed to shake the police this time, and the vehicle was later found abandoned. Moses Lake Police Department towed the vehicle but not before they found a law enforcement surprise inside: body armor – scary!