My photo
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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Abuse of YOUR Public Lands

The issues seem to be limitless: gang graffiti, garbage dumping, vandalism, drug dealing, marijuana plantations, thefts and off-road destruction... and that's just for starters.


But we're doing something about it.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission passed an improved set of land conduct rules four years ago to allow us to address problems more easily. Since then the WDFW Law Enforcement Bureau has begun collaborating with volunteers and other police agencies to target problem sites and implement a number of strategies.

For example, Officer Haw successfully investigated the dumping of hulk boats and trailers on WDFW Wildlife Area properties. A dumped vessel and trailer were traced to the original registered owners, and then to the owner of a storage facility that had gone out of business. The person had posted ads on Craig’s List for free boats and trailers on the condition that the hulks were removed from the DFW facilities. Of course Officer Haw answered the advertisement. After several denials, the suspect was confronted by a mountain of evidence, including a boat being advertised as “free” parked in his yard.
 



Contributing to the dumping problem are some camps used as long-term hovels. The occupants are now easily evicted, where before we didn’t have any options. We can’t even begin to quantify the number of wildfires that have been prevented by being able to enforce much clearer rules related to camping and keg parties.

On a more challenging front, we are attempting to address the gang presence and industrial marijuana growing on your lands, with the two issues often interrelated. The latest trend is the live-in grow site, complete with structures, human refuse and armed security guard. A specially trained team of Fish and Wildlife Police Officers that network with our law enforcement partners has been very effective in maintaining a safer recreational area for the public, and eradicating these grow sites to prevent further destruction of valuable habitat.







Clean-up efforts and emphasis patrols are beginning to send a clear message: The public's investment in state lands is not a wasted effort, and we will not tolerate the “anything goes” attitude when it comes to protecting the public's investment. But we can't do it alone.

We are very fortunate that most of Washington's citizens share our same passion for protecting our state's lands. We'd like to thank those who step forward to report offenders who abuse our public lands, and we'd especially like to recognize the folks who have volunteered to clean up the LT Murray Wildlife Area (an area hit particularly hard by garbage, vandalism, and grafitti). The Wenas Valley Muzzleloaders and Kittitas County Field and Stream Club have been instrumental in organizing annual spring clean-ups for several years, and we've even had some private citizens from the hunting community step up to coordinate separate clean-up events. As law enforcement, we will do our best to ensure your public lands remain clean and open for use, long after the clean up is over!


Thank You!! (images from previous clean up efforts)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

King Clam!

Imagine what you could accomplish with an average life span of 140 years...

Ok, now imagine living all 140 years in the same exact spot, with no change of scenery.

Welcome to the life of the laterally-challenged Geoduck – an almost grotesque looking (albeit delicious) bi-valve occupying the substrate under Puget Sound (if left undisturbed, that is).
   
Although these critters have a low natural mortality rate, a good diver can poach $1,000 worth of geoducks in an hour, if he has the inclination. Retail markets in China are offering the "King of All Clams" for $100 per pound, and the demand keeps growing. Until private sector aquaculture catches up with production, wild geoduck are the most viable source. And from our perspective, Washington State’s Puget Sound supply could be in jeopardy if we don’t ensure proper fishery protection. Unfortunately, this unique animal is under pressure from illegal harvest, and Fish and Wildlife Police Officers are stepping up the oversight in an industry that’s as complex as a geoduck's appearance.

While there are tight controls associated with regulating the take of this species, historical and recent evidence of thefts have highlighted the inadequacy of our few monitoring resources – Puget Sound is a lot of territory to cover! So another way to monitor the fishery is through patrolling fishing-buying and processing plants.

The most common strategy is to launder or mix illegal geoduck in with the legally harvested geoduck – one looks just like the other. But in the last few weeks, WDFW Marine Officers and Detectives served two search warrants and seized records at four commercial fish dealing and processing companies suspected of failing to properly report commercial harvests. Officers will spend months pouring through evidence to determine just how much under-reporting occurred. Over $9,000 worth of geoduck was seized at one facility as it was unwittingly delivered into the waiting hands of investigators.

So what’s the big deal?

It’s pretty simple really: without any idea of how much geoduck is being taken or where it comes from, overharvest can occur quickly. And given the slow reproductive and growth rates for geoduck, an area takes decades to reach pre-harvest levels. You can imagine the effect on future opportunities for legitimate harvesters if geoduck take is not managed.

Please call us and share information if you see or hear of any activity consistent with illegal geoduck harvest. For instance, geoduck diving is illegal at night, which is when some of the poaching occurs. Commercial harvest in intertidal areas is also prohibited. So if you see a boat anchored somewhere along the shoreline of Puget Sound and hear a compressor running, give us a call -- because someone is down there stealing your resource by blasting it out of the ground with an air-hose!


By the way, if you want to compete with Ivar's for some awesome clam chowder, give geoduck digging a try! You can find them on a number of public beaches during extremely low tides. You're allowed three per day, but be prepared to dig at least part way to China – they live deep.

Refer to page 133 of the sportfishing pamphlet for more information about geoduck digging!


Weekly Highlights

Undersized Commercial Crab
While inspecting two fishing vessels delivering a shipment of 40,000 pounds of Dungeness crab from Southern Oregon, Officer Jacobson discovered many crabs under the minimum size of 6.75 inches. Sgt. Chadwick was called and responded to assist. After sorting through 7,000 pounds of crab, it was determined that 7% were undersized.  The crab was seized and the receiving plant will be cited.  The case is also being forwarded to Oregon for charges against the skippers of the offending vessels.

Note: All Puget Sound commercial crab pots must have a buoy tag attached to the buoy. These tags have the license number printed on them and are listed 1-100. Currently commercial crab fishermen in north Puget Sound are only allowed to fish 50 pots per license, and must retain the extra 50 unused tags aboard their vessel.
 
Bad Luck in Bellingham Bay
While on boat patrol in the Bellingham Bay area, Officers Beauchene, Gaston, and Rosenberger observed several commercial crab buoys that lacked buoy tags. The officers proceeded to pull approximately ten pots belonging to the same commercial fisherman, and found that over half did not have buoy tags, biodegradable escape mechanisms, or pot tags (all required under state law).

Over the next few weeks, Officers identified the commercial fisherman who was operating the gear, and performed surveillance of his movements, as they suspected he was fishing more than the allowed 50 pots. One day, as Officers Rosenberger and Gaston followed the fisherman at a distance, they counted a total of 60 commercial crab pots being fished. A few days later, Sgt. Mullins and Officers Gaston and Rosenberger pulled all of the fisherman's actively fishing commercial crab gear and discovered 63 actively fishing pots -- a 26% overage of commercial gear! Of the 63 pots recovered, 15 were not marked with buoy tags, and 36 did not have pot tags. Upon returning to Bellingham, Officers seized the fisherman’s vessel and the 63 pots for forfeiture proceedings.   


Officer Gaston, Sgt. Mullins, and Offer Rosenberger with seized crab pots and vessel

Year Round Poaching Patrols 
Everyone knows our Officers patrol during open season. What you may not know is the amount of time and effort spent patrolling during closed season to prevent the illegal take of big game (deer, elk, moose and bear)  and protected wildlife (birds of prey). Sportsmen and women are our best defense against poaching, and we rely on their vigilance all year to protect the hunting heritage and wildlife populations. Here’s a snapshot of just two cases investigated last week.

Cowlitz County:
Officers served a search warrant at the home of a suspect involved in poaching a cow elk in December. Thankfully, a sportsman engaged in legal coyote hunting saw some suspicious activity and reported it.

Officer Anderson was able to search law enforcement databases and track the involved vehicle to a car lot that had purchased it from the suspect four days after the poaching. Lo and behold, Officers found elk hair in the bed! After thorough interviews and the eventual service of a search warrant, the suspect confessed. 

Late in the search warrant service, Officers Martin and Schroeder arrived on scene and provided  new information about a  bull elk the suspect had also shot with a rifle during the early archery season (only archery equipment could be used). The suspect confessed to illegally taking this elk as well. In both cases, the animals were largely wasted. An accomplice was also identified and will be facing charges for his role.
Grays Harbor County:
After contacting the media and soliciting public assistance on the WDFW Police Facebook page, Officer Do received several tips that led to a possible suspect in a North River elk poaching investigation. After gathering sufficient evidence, Officer Do found the suspect at a house in Hoquiam. He confronted the suspect, who subsequently confessed to killing the elk.

But there’s a twist....

The suspect who confessed was the same person who originally called the poaching in!  He shot the animal and his family became nervous because they thought it had an electronic tracking device embedded somewhere in the body. So they decided to call law enforcement and report that they heard a shot and found the animal. 

While Officer Do was deep in the elk poaching investigation, he contacted a subject with a lengthy criminal history, including the conviction of a Class B felony. Officer Do recalled seeing a rifle inside the subject’s travel trailer during the contact, so he obtained a search warrant.  Sgt. Chadwick, Officer Hopkins, Officer Jacobson, and Officer Do served the search warrant and located the rifle. The subject was booked into Pacific County Jail for felon in unlawful possession of a firearm. 

Clam Poaching Plan Gone Awry
Clam chowder was in the making on coastal beaches in January: Razor clams! Many happy diggers went home with well-earned limits. However, those with ill-gotten gains had them taken away.

I can hear my mother's voice in my head, clear as a bell: “Hey, save some for the other kids!"

But not everyone listens to their mother. Officer Hopkins defeated one such group's trickery after a concerned citizen tipped him off about their greedy intentions. The plan was simple – make several trips to the beach and harvest a limit each time. Add a change of clothes and vehicle and voila! You get away with it... right?

Not so fast!

Sgt. Holden,  Capt. Schlenker and Sgt. Chadwick located the men digging their first limits near Oysterville.  Sgt. Holden and Officer Hopkins staked out the house, waiting for them to return.  After digging their first limit, the men drove to the house and dropped off their clams.  They then returned to the beach after changing vehicles and clothes and dug a second limit.  Sgt. Chadwick and Capt. Schlenker contacted the men as they concluded their second limit.  In the meantime, Officer Chamberlin went to their house to ensure that evidence did not disappear. The men first denied digging any other clams, but then later admitted to digging the earlier limit.

The men were cited for Fail to Submit Catch for Inspection, and First Degree Over Limit.  Over 100 clams were seized from them.  One of the men also had unlawfully purchased both Oregon and Washington resident licenses. 

Brain Freeze
Boating safety is one of our public safety missions. Known for a number of vessel related rescues each year, we prefer to prevent tragedies from happening when we can. While disaster can strike at any time, there are some who seem to invite it...
Officers Myers and Vance were patrolling the upper Snake River by boat when they saw one brave fellow water skiing in the 38 degree water.  The winter water skier didn’t bother to have an observer onboard, nor did the boat operator display a skier down flag when the skier fell into the frigid water. The same subjects in this same ski boat were cited for the exact same violations in the summer. 

Apparently they’re hardcore skiers.... but slow learners. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Always Be Prepared

Hundreds of thousands of people venture into Washington's great outdoors each year to recreate at all times of the year. A little preparedness can go a long way, and make the difference between a positive outdoor experience and one that is memorable for all of the wrong reasons.

In January, Fish and Wildlife Officer James Sympson assisted the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and Randle Fire Department in rescuing six missing motorists from the Morton area. The group of friends had gone out the night before for some four-wheeling fun and hadn't returned. The Lewis County Sheriff's Office had very little information to work with, and didn't even know whether the missing group was in Lewis or Skamania County. But with several feet of snow on the ground and more storms coming in, they knew it was critical to find these folks before they had to spend a second night in the wilderness, without protection from the elements. They contacted Officer Sympson in the Randle area and asked him to search around Oar Creek and Walupt Lake. Officer Sympson was more than willing to help out, even though there was no active Search and Rescue Mission due to the lack of information.

With limited information, Officer Sympson was able to locate all six of the missing people, and bring them out safely with the assistance of some snowmobilers. The group had found themselves stuck in the snow during their four-wheeling adventure and spent the night and the next day stranded near Walupt Lake before Officer Sympson found them north of Orr Creek. Hungry, cold, and down to an eighth of a tank of fuel with no other heat source available, the frightened group panicked and left their vehicles on foot. The group trudged through deep snow in twenty degree weather. They were extremely cold with wet socks when they were rescued shortly before dark. Some kind snowmobilers gave them a bowl of soup at the Orr Creek Sno-Park and let them warm up by the fire. They then assisted Officer Sympson with transporting the group to the Randle Fire Department to be reunited with family and friends.


Map of the area where the missing motorists were found

In this instance, a disaster was narrowly averted. Without the help of Officer Sympson, his positive attitude and knowledge of the remote East Lewis County area, these folks may not have been found.

Many thanks to the snowmobilers who provided food, heat, and transportation to these folks! Your assistance was greatly appreciated by the rescued individuals, Officer Sympson, and the WDFW Police.
With this story in mind, here's a list of safety tips that will come in handy when you're planning a trip into Washington's wild and often unpredictable outdoors:
  • Let someone know what your travel plans are and how long you plan to be gone;
  • Bring enough provisions (food and water) to last a night or two -- granola or power bars are a great emergency food after the fried chicken and potato salad are gone.
  • Bring clothing for all climates - we all know how fast the weather can turn in the Northwest! An emergency blanket is also recommended.
  • Make sure you do some homework on the services for the area…… "last chance for gas" should mean topping off your tank before you go any further.
  • Consider buying a handheld GPS. A simple to use, no frills unit is fairly inexpensive and can provide directions back to camp, vehicles, or trailheads.
  • Keep a small survival kit in your vehicle that includes flares, waterproof fire starters, flashlight, and first aid materials. For more information on how to build a vehicle safety and survival kit, visit the WMD Emergency Management Division's "Vehicle Safety and Preparedness Tips" webpage.

Don't Miss Out!!

First-time hunters born after January 1, 1972, must successfully pass a Hunter Education training course before purchasing a hunting license. Historically, fewer than 10 percent of Hunter Education classes are conducted after September 30th of each year. Anyone interested in taking Hunter Education training in Washington should plan to register for a class as early in the year as possible. This is especially true if you want to participate in the April spring turkey season, or want to apply for any of the available special permit hunts.

You can register online for Hunter Education training at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/huntered/.

Every year, we see two distinct patterns for our Hunter Education classes. The first occurs prior to July, when many classes are being offered and enrollment is very low.


The second occurs after July when fewer and fewer classes are being offered by certified volunteer Hunter Education instructors, demand begins to spike, and disappointed people are routinely turned away. “If you need Hunter Education training, don’t wait until the month of September or you may  have to sit out the season,” said Sergeant Carl Klein, Hunter Education Program Manager.

Every year, Hunter Education staff and volunteer instructors receive hundreds of calls from frustrated people who have waited until the last minute and cannot find an available class.

There are two types of Hunter Education training offered in Washington.

The traditional Hunter Education course involves a minimum of 10 hours of classroom teaching conducted by certified volunteer Hunter Education instructors, and is best suited for younger students. A traditional course of instruction may take place over 4-5 evenings, plus part of a Saturday for field activities.

The online Hunter Education course has separate components, and is best-suited for older students. The first component involves self-study and passing an Internet examination. The second component involves a training and evaluation class which includes a maximum of 4 hours of classroom and field activities conducted by certified volunteer Hunter Education instructors. Students must also register on the Internet for these short training and evaluation classes. Current or past members of the military who take the online Hunter Education course are exempt from the training and evaluation class portion.

Permit deadlines to remember:
  • Spring bear permit applications: January-February
  • Multi-season deer and elk permit applications: December-March
  • Raffle permit sales: January-July
  • Deer, elk, goat, sheep, and moose permit applications:  mid-April through mid-May

“Washington also offers many youth hunting opportunities, so get your certification completed early so you don’t miss out,” said Sergeant Klein.



For more information about Hunter Education, please visit us at  http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/huntered/.

All course registration must be completed on the Internet.  If you cannot find a class, you might consider the once-in-a-lifetime, one-license-year, Hunter Education deferral available to hunters 10 years and older. Those who take the Hunter Education deferral to get a license, though, are precluded from applying for special permits.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yeehaw!!

Sometimes humans collide with wildlife. Other times, it's the wildlife that collides with humans. Such was the case when Officer Chamberlin received information about an elk entangled in a line attached to some playground equipment in Ariel last week. The four-point bull was found with the line wrapped around the base of his antlers, and the situation had all the makings of an elk rodeo. WDFW Biologists Pat Miller and Eric Holman and Officers Chamberlin, Van Vladricken and Hughes responded to deal with the big fellow. 


The elk had to be tranquilized before the rope could be cut away, but when the bull finally woke up, it ran off into the woods saying "THANK YOU!" Ok, maybe not, but he looked much happier...



Think wrangling wildlife sounds easy? Well.... it's not. Take, for instance, a similar situation involving Sgt. Phillips and Officer Rosenberger:

A Very Crabby Deer
(as told by Sgt. Rich Phillips while working in the Marine Division):

How many times have you found yourself in a predicament where you KNOW the only outcome is gonna be bad?  And, despite that knowledge, you just keep on going, driven by an inner voice that seems to say, "run the other way, you idiot!"

So here is how it all began.  A simple call from State Patrol radio: 

"Everett to all Wildlife Units, a deer caught in a crab pot..."

Now, you gotta admit, THAT'S not a call you get every day.  I debated with myself and lost, so I answered the call.  Seems some folks in Anacortes have a deer caught up in a crab pot.  No Skagit County units were working (proving once again that they are smarter than me), and I have to admit I was curious to see what this would look like.  Kinda like watching a train wreck, I imagined.  But hey, I am a fish cop.  And crab is a marine critter.  And if I remember correctly, I once was a Game Warden (another term for the present day land officer). 

I make several phone calls and finally get Officer Kit Rosenberger on the line.  Kit is a fine young marine officer and I decided he might enjoy learning some "game wardening."  I told him to gear up, bring his camera and his lovely wife Chelsea (to document what would no doubt be an historic event).  The reporting party is insistent that we bring a tranquilizer gun with us to subdue the beast while we free it.  I try to explain that fish cops don't use tranquilizer guns, the darn salmon just sink before you can catch them!

I meet Kit and Chelsea at the residence a short time later.  Kit (being young and fairly sound of mind) tells me the deer is a nice three-point blacktail buck and is entangled in rope from a crab pot just over the cut bank. Kit makes what later seems a pretty good request.  He says, "why don't we just shoot it?"  Now, to normal folk, that might seem like a good idea.  The deer is hacked off, all entangled in rope and buoys.  He also has somehow gotten a small tree mixed up in all the mess.  But somewhere in the process I have misplaced most of my IQ points and I tell Kit we're gonna have a deer rodeo.  He looks at me like I lost what little grip I ever had on sanity.  Chelsea suggests he get on its back and ride it off into the sunset (she is snickering most of the time).

We climb down the bank and are now standing within striking distance of the buck - his striking distance, not ours!  I am trying to hold onto the tree, Kit is trying to cut the rope off it's antlers, Chelsea is taking pictures and laughing, and the deer is trying his best to gore me with his antlers!  Kit has to be careful which part of the rope he cuts, because if he cuts it wrong the deer will take off dragging the tree and an old Sergeant!  Every time the deer shakes his head, Kit jumps out of the way and his knife slashes wildly past my face!  This goes on for several minutes, until both the deer and the Sergeant are exhausted.  Finally the last of the rope is severed and the deer is free.  Ungrateful thing then tries to gore me again.  The deer, not Kit.  The deer is snorting, I am sweating, Kit is scrambling up the hill, and Chelsea is still laughing! 

Finally reaching safe ground we survey our work.  I am patting both Kit and myself on the back for some pretty good Game Wardening.  I think I pulled a muscle.  Kit looks at me and says quietly, "I'll remember this for a long time."  For me, I'm going back to being a fish cop...... 

Editors Note: This turned out to be untrue as Sgt. Phillips now supervises a land unit……we always knew he was part cowboy!