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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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Yellow Zone - By Captain Chris Anderson

Yesterday, we included some information in our "Weekly Highlights" about recent ATV patrols in the "Yellow Zone." We asked Regional Enforcement Captain Chris Anderson to provide us with a history of the Yellow Zone, and the purpose of its seasonal closure. Below is a brief history of this beautiful area of Washington State, and how the Yellow Zone came to be.

The Moses Lake Off-Road Vehicle Park was established in 1976 under an agreement between the Department of Game, Department of Natural Resources, the Bureau of Reclamation and Grant County. The state agencies, at the time, wanted more protection for wildlife and the habitat located along the north shore of the Potholes Reservoir and Crab Creek, and the county agreed to establish a seasonal closure from October to December. This closure was designed to protect terrestrial habitat and reduce the potential disturbances to waterfowl hunters in the fall caused by motorized vehicles.

In 1984 representatives from the Department of Game, Grant County and the Bureau of Reclamation created a new management plan and land use agreement that divided the entire area located between the Potholes Reservoir and the City of Moses Lake into three colored zones that were to be managed separately: Green Zone (open to motorized traffic year around), Red Zone (permanently closed to motorized traffic), and Yellow Zone (seasonally closed to motorized traffic). Under the new land use agreement that would allow the county to expand the off-road vehicle park, Grant County officials agreed to extend the Yellow Zone closure dates from 3 to 5 months, starting October 1st and ending February 1st. The Department's goal was to ensure adequate protection of wildlife and to maintain waterfowl hunting opportunities.

In 1989 the Department of Wildlife agreed to support Grant County and IAC officials in their quest to obtain some private property in the area to again expand the park boundaries. In exchange for the State's support, county officials agreed to extend the seasonal closure from 5 to 9 months of every year. The closure begins October 1st and ends June 30th of the following year. The expanded closure was designed to protect nesting shorebirds that depend on the area in the spring. Again, the fall closure was to eliminate disturbances by motorized traffic during the migratory waterfowl hunting season.
The Yellow Zone encompasses a large area consisting of medium and small bodies of water, sand dunes, brush, trees, and islands created by the rise and fall of the waters of the reservoir. The outside boundary area is partially fenced with signs displayed in an effort to keep vehicles out of the area during the nine-month closure. The WDFW Wildlife Program has asked that enforcement of the seasonal closure be a high law enforcement priority, so local Fish and Wildlife police officers have vigorously enforced the regulations over the years.

Unfortunately, some folks just don't seem to respect the law...

This kid decided to take his parents' new jeep
out for a spin in the Yellow Zone. Guess what he got?
A citation and a towing bill.

These individuals were recently cited for riding
their dirt bikes in the Yellow Zone while closed. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Weekly Highlights

Off-Road Fun?

Captain Anderson and Officer McGary spent several hours on ATVs over the weekend, patrolling the seasonally closed Yellow Zone at the Moses Lake Sand Dunes. They contacted and cited approximately a dozen operators who unlawfully ventured into the closure.

Officer McGary cites two operators for riding in a closed area.
The officers also used the ATVs to respond to several serious injury ORV accidents for the sheriff’s office. One young man had flipped his motorcycle and crashed landed. When  Officers arrived, his leg was twisted 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Although he had broken his upper femur, he initially refused aid, saying he thought he could walk out on his own -- now that’s hardcore! Officers also responded to another accident where a woman rolled a quad over on top of her, resulting in a possible broken collarbone. 

That night, Officer McGary and the Captain responded to a serious injury accident that had occurred way back in the dunes between a sand rail and a Chevrolet Suburban. Aid units arrived on scene using 4-wheel drive rigs, and removed the injured female passenger from the rail. Two women in the Suburban were also injured and transported to the hospital. The rail driver, who refused to take a breath test, was taken into custody after Officer McGary tested his sobriety and determined that he was likely intoxicated. The man was transported back to the entrance of the park where a local DRE trooper also determined that the driver would likely register quite high. The responding deputies issued the driver a citation for driving an ORV while intoxicated.

Sand rail that crashed into a Chevy Suburban

Short Crab

Officer Do patrolled Westport and checked commercial crab offloads. During the inspection he noticed one vessel had delivered over 24% undersized crabs. He contacted Officer Hopkins and Student Officer Apple to assist. After measuring all of the crab, Officer Do contacted the vessel's Skipper and notified him that he would be cited. Officer Do conducted another check a few days later and noticed an excess of undersized crab in the offload.  Sgt. Chadwick and Student Officer Apple arrived to assist. After going through the entire offload, there were 132 undersized Dungeness crab, again over 20% of the load was short.  The skipper of the vessel will be cited accordingly.

Rampage in the Woods

Officers McCormick, Day, Busching and Christensen responded to a multi-agency manhunt for a 41-year old armed subject in the Twisp River drainage near War Creek. Officer Day arrived and was notified that an Okanogan County Sheriff's Deputy had responded to a call the previous evening where witnesses reported the subject behaving oddly and armed with a machete. The mentally ill man’s elderly parents were contacted, and confirmed that the suspect had not been taking his medication and had fled from their campsite into the woods with two handguns and a machete. In what can only be described as a bad combination,  the armed man, while high on Oxycontin, had started a small forest fire near the campground. As Forest Service firefighters hiked into the burn area to evaluate the fire, gun shots rang out from the river bottom. All firefighting personnel were quickly evacuated. 

WDFW officers joined with county deputies in setting up a hasty perimeter as intermittent gun shots and shouting rang out through the thick brush near the edge of the forest.  Special Response Teams from Okanogan and Chelan County arrived on scene to help shore up the perimeter. Law enforcement officers used a Forest Service fire truck to knock back some of the hotter areas of the fire that were threatening to cross the road. Other Officers used loudspeakers and aircraft in an attempt to either call out the armed man or pinpoint his position from the air. Once it became clear the subject was not going to come out of the woods, Officers began a careful, coordinated foot search of the area of dense timber and brush. While moving along the edge of the Twisp River with a search team, through thick trees and dense smoke, Officer Day observed 'something' trying to climb a birch tree. Initially he thought it may have been a black bear attempting to escape the mayhem of fire and barking patrol dogs. However, it quickly became apparent that this was no bear, but the subject they were searching for, as Officer Day repeatedly saw the man slip and fall back to the ground. The man's location was relayed to another search team, which finally apprehended the man without incident.

Halibut Season Opener, Marine Area 5

Officers Balazs, Davidson and Sgt. Anderson conducted a boat patrol out of Sekiu for the opening day of the halibut season in Marine Area 5.  This was a highly anticipated season and Officers saw a lot of anglers. While the participation level was quite high, overall success for the fishermen was average.  Most anglers our Officers contacted were following the rules, however, they did have to address a few 'mistakes.'

The worst offense of the day was on a boat in Marine Area 4 (closed for halibut), where Officers found two men fishing for halibut, with one 30-pounder already in possession. The officers also encountered several anglers in violation of rockfish/bottomfish rules. During the Day 1 patrol, Officers boarded 35 vessels and contacted just under 100 fishermen.  Additional violations encountered were failure to record catch, fishing with barbed hooks, and various boating safety violations. 

Officers Balazs and Davidson with some of the illegal "catch of the day!"

Bad Call!

Officer Erickson received an anonymous tip indicating that a group of five people were fishing a closed creek in Pend Oreille County. The caller gave him a vehicle description but no license plate. Officer Erickson quickly responded to the area, but was unable to locate the vehicle. He then patrolled a nearby lake in hopes of finding the suspects, but still no luck...

However, when Officer Erickson returned to the closed creek, he found the suspect vehicle and five people just arriving to camp. He made contact and questioned the group about fishing the creek. The group was able to provide Officer Erickson with receipts from Newport, which proved they had been in town at the time the call came in. Hmmmm. After a little more digging, Officer Erickson identified the anonymous caller and called him back. The caller admitted that he had gotten into a fight with his family earlier in the day because he had not been invited on their annual camping trip. To get back at them, he falsely reported the illegal fishing activity. The caller was cited for making a false report.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Halibut Opener Highlights

As expected, angler participation was high during the recent halibut season opener in  Marine Areas 3 and 4, and this delicious table fare was pursued with a vengeance!

There were well over 100 boats out of La Push and 250+ boats out of Neah Bay each day of the three-day, ten Officer emphasis patrol. While compliance was comparatively good, Officers issued plenty of citations to deserving individuals for a variety of violations. Officer Fairbanks did an outstanding job organizing the emphasis patrol and coordinating activities for the participating officers.  Here are a few highlights:

During day one of the emphasis patrol, the ocean was less than pleasant and many fishermen stayed in the Straits.  One boat was found in possession of closed season canary rockfish.  Other violations included possessing fish in an unlawful condition (mutilating to hide closed season species, fish under minimum length, etc.), failing to record halibut, and possession of closed season rockfish east of the Tatoosh-Bonilla line. 

Student Officer Marthaller and canary rockfish
The next day halibut season was closed, but nice weather and calm seas had everyone in search of bottom fish.  Officers Anderson and Marthaller and Sgt. Chadwick worked a remote resort area from shore, monitoring boats with limits of fish coming in. Some were filleting their catch and then heading back out for an additional (and illegal) limit.  As the boats returned to shore in the afternoon, Sgt. Chadwick and Officer Marthaller made contact while Officer Anderson kept track of everyone. Over the next three hours, two citations were issued for exceeding the limit for rockfish, one citation was issued for possession of six undersize lingcod and warnings were given to others for over limit rockfish. 

Officers are well aware of all of the tricks folks use to cheat the system, so they monitor behavior closely to zero in on potential illegal activity. One case involving a couple of guys and their ‘diabolical’ poaching plan began with a boat coming into port at 10am on day two of the patrol.  Officers covertly watched the two men fillet three lingcod (you can only have one each for the area fished) before heading back out a short time later. They returned to port around 6:30 that evening.... one man got off at the dock, while the operator took the boat out to a mooring buoy. Ok – so what do you think is going on here? The man on the dock spent some time looking around, then took a skiff out to the mooring buoy to get the other guy off of the boat. The two had a short discussion, and one lingcod was held up high before being put in the skiff. The two men then came back to the dock….. so what’s the problem? Well, Officer Anderson had observed the boat operator put another fish in a plastic bag and stuff it in a cooler. Upon contact the two men said they had caught two lingcod “and a couple of green ling” earlier in the day (remember, we watched them fillet three lingcod?).  They denied having any fish back at the boat. The two lingcod were inspected in their freezer and a third lingcod was found. Sgt. Chadwick explained what he had witnessed earlier and told them he believed there were more fish back at the boat. The pair not only ‘fessed up, but told Sgt. Chadwick that there was also a closed season halibut in possession. The extra lingcod and halibut were recovered and citations were issued.

But citations weren’t the only thing keeping our Officers busy…..

Right before dark on the second day, Officers were just outside of Neah Bay in the patrol boat when Officer Anderson noticed a vessel in between an island and some rocks. As he took a closer look through his binoculars, he saw a man trying to get his attention. Not knowing exactly what was going on, our Officers responded and found a Sea-Doo dead in the water in the middle of a kelp patch.  Officers were able to get close enough to talk to the riders and ask what happened…. to which the skipper replied, “DWS: Driving While Stupid!” Apparently he had tried to take his Sea-Doo through the kelp and… well, you know the rest.  The watercraft drifted close enough to the patrol vessel to hook up a tow line, and our officers were able to return it to port.  The Coast Guard was notified of the situation, and appreciated our Officers’ help. 

The third day of the emphasis patrol, found Officers Anderson, Apple, and Hopkins out on the water, where they located a vessel 1.5 miles inside an area closed to halibut fishing known as the Yelloweye Rockfish Conservation Zone. Citations were issued for closed area fishing.

Officers later stopped a vessel for a routine inspection. They found five mutilated lingcod fillets (to avoid size restrictions) and one halibut. The lingcod was hidden underneath filleted halibut in plastic baggies, with the fisherman claiming the halibut belonged to a friend, and the cod fillets were from the previous day’s fishing adventure (of course). Officer Anderson pointed out the fact that the lingcod fillets were suspiciously supple, and not cold to the touch, indicating that fish had recently been landed. The men were cited for Unlawful Fishing 2nd for the over limit amount of lingcod on the vessel, and for possessing mutilated fish (lingcod).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Weekly Highlights

The Golden Ticket
Officer McGary thought the Quincy Lake fisherman looked vaguely familiar upon initial contact, but when the man asked the Officer if he remembered him from a contact last year, McGary couldn’t quite put his finger on it (similar conversations usually go something like: "You wrote me a chicken #@% ticket I didn’t deserve, how do you sleep at night?").

Sure enough, Officer McGary had pinched this fisherman the previous year for not having life jackets onboard his boat. As the man explained this, McGary braced himself for what might come next. You can imagine his surprise when the man told him that, since receiving that ticket, he has made sure to always have enough PFDs on board his boat for himself and his passengers. He further explained that, a month after receiving the ticket, he was out on the Pacific Ocean with his family when his boat began to take on water and sank. Everyone on board his boat was wearing a PFD, and nobody was injured.

The fisherman thanked Officer McGary for his professionalism, and told him that without the reminder the previous year, he probably would not have had enough life jackets with him that day on the ocean. The thankful fisherman told Officer McGary that the ticket actually saved his life. Wow! We don’t get that kind of introspection everyday....

Crabby Crabbers
It's bad enough when low catch rates make it hard for commercial crab fishermen in North Puget Sound to scratch together a living. The high price can help offset this some, if not for people stealing crab from the traps.... and sometimes stealing the traps themselves. Imagine someone breaking into your car and stealing your wallet... or, worse yet, stealing your car and your wallet. Not much difference here, except that these fishermen don’t have insurance, and this kind of property crime is hard to detect. Who do you call if you do witness this kind of theft? The Fish and Wildlife Police.

Officer Rosenberger recently responded to just such a call in plain clothes and his personal vehicle within ten minutes of the report. Utilizing a camera with a large telephoto lens, he photographed the suspect vessel as the operator and deckhand pulled six commercial pots that did not belong to them. And in case you're wondering, nobody's confused here – these are fishermen who know one another, and all have crab gear marked in such a way as to distinguish it from someone else’s (think Deadliest Catch). The suspects removed the legal sized crab before putting the pots back into the water. Officers Gaston and Downes arrived in the area shortly after, and together with Officer Rosenberger, they devised a plan to catch the thieves the next time they went out.

As the suspect vessel got underway the next time, Officer Rosenberger again photographed the crime, this time from an unmarked vehicle, as the outlaws pulled four more commercial crab pots belonging to others and stole numerous crab from within. Meanwhile, Officer Gaston observed the vessel’s return to the dock and watched as the suspects loaded their stolen crab into their vehicle. As the two suspects drove away, Officers Rosenberger and Downes performed a vehicle stop and detained them until Officer Gaston arrived to question them. After a few lies were told, the truth finally came out. Both suspects confessed in a written statement to pulling gear that didn’t belong to them and stealing crab. They also failed to possess the mandatory transport documents for the 66 pounds of crab they had in the vehicle. The crab and vessel were seized for forfeiture proceedings. Officers will be charging the two in Skagit County with 10 counts of Unlawful Interference 1st degree, Theft 3rd, unlawful transportation, and no driver’s license on person while operating a motor vehicle.

Vessel seized for forfeiture

A String of Bad Luck
If you're drunk, it’s probably a good idea not to ask a cop for a tow.

Officer Stephenson was in the Point Defiance area of Pierce County when an individual came up to her asking for a tow strap or chain to pull him out of the ditch. Officer Stephenson advised him that she did not possess the equipment he needed, but proceeded to drive toward the location where the man indicated he had tried to “pull his truck off the road” and got stuck.

Upon rounding a corner, Officer Stephenson observed what appeared to be skid marks off of the pavement, into the gravel, and.... a white SUV smashed into a tree. It appeared that the individual had taken the corner a bit too fast, and (luckily) the tree stopped what could have been a very exciting descent down a steep hill. Officer Stephenson could smell the odor of alcohol coming from the man, and he admitted to drinking a 24 oz. beer around 9am. Officer Stephenson requested a Trooper to respond to the scene. The subject performed a field sobriety test, although not very well, and was placed under arrest for DUI after blowing a .175. His "string of bad luck," as he called it, would probably not be nearly as bad... if he wasn't a repeat DUI offender.

Clean and Sober?
Officer Kirsch contacted a subject at the Gardener Road boat launch in Burlington who had an expired registration on his truck and no back bumper. As it turns out, he also had no drivers license (revoked). What he did have, however, was a warrant from Marysville PD...

Officer Kirsch noted that the subject was very lethargic, but upon questioning, he was adamant that he was a former drug user and had been clean for seven months. As it turns out, he had just finished injecting heroin. A WSP K-9 unit was brought in and the dog quickly 'hit' on several articles in the cab of the truck. After all the dust settled, Officer Kirsch helped recover an ounce of heroin, two ounces of meth, several hundred grams of pot, (some packaged for sale) and a small amount of hashish. Several heroin needles, meth and marijuana pipes, scales, and packaging were also located in the truck. Charges will be filed in Skagit County -- when the subject is released from the Marysville jail after serving time for his warrant, he will head on over to the Skagit County Jail to serve some time for Possession with Intent to Deliver.

Some of the illegal substances found during the search of the vehicle

Officer Kirsch cuffs the suspect

WSP K-9 Unit

Something's Fishy
While providing an enforcement presence during the ever-popular Spring Chinook season on the Columbia River, Officers Anderson and Scherzinger followed up on a tip from a private citizen. Sergeant Chadwick received information about a man attempting to exceed the daily limit of salmon by catching one salmon in the morning and returning to the river again in the afternoon to continue fishing. Officers Anderson and Scherzinger located the suspect’s camp and waited for him to return. When he arrived at his camp, he decided to lie upon questioning, and told the officers he didn’t catch anything. Suspecting something was fishy, the Officers pressed the suspect until a wild spring Chinook was removed from his boat - only hatchery fish can be kept.