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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dangerous Harvest

Written By Deputy Chief Mike Cenci

The sounds of wood chopping and low voices drifted from the Russian olive grove toward their position. Just a short distance away, a team of Fish and Wildlife Officers was hunkered down in the brush. Despite the hot Eastern Washington sun beating down on them, and the bugs biting through desert camo fatigues, they remained motionless, every one of their senses alert. They had gotten as close as they dared without spooking the men, but they had seen enough… this was no ordinary camp. The team decided to back off, hiking the three miles to the trailhead in silence. The take-down of this live-in marijuana plantation would be planned in a more secure area, and involve our law enforcement partners.

Washington State is known nationally for many things: its teeming salmon runs, delicious apples, lush forests and ruggedly beautiful coastline, among other things. What the general public may not know, however, is that it ranks second in the nation for illegal marijuana cultivation (California ranks #1). A USA TODAY clipping from 2008 captures the essence of this ongoing issue:

“Mexican drug cartels are stepping up marijuana cultivation in national parks and on other public land, endangering visitors and damaging the environment……..”


According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 75%-80% of marijuana grown outdoors is on state or federal land. Why public land? You know what they say in the real estate business: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. In the criminal world, remote locations seemingly hidden away from the prying eyes of law enforcement and scrutiny of the general public are prime real estate for illegal activity.

Enter the Fish and Wildlife Police Officer, or "Game Warden," if you will. This preferred real estate is right in the middle of our patrol beats.


It looked like some kind of military mission, with guys in boonie hats and tactical gear converging on the staging area. A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent went over the finer points of safely maneuvering around the helicopters. Team assignments were given and small groups began to form and conduct briefings. Lt. Wiley with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) reviewed a topographic map of the Desert Wildlife Area one last time with a WDFW Enforcement Captain to make sure the plan made sense from our perspective. Captain Chris Anderson had been part of the original recon, and after many years of patrolling this agency-owned land, he knew it like his backyard. Known as the Cannabis Eradication Response Team and working in conjunction with the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program, this was one awesome group.

The plan was fairly basic, and designed to use limited law enforcement resources efficiently. First, a perimeter allowing for a number of vantage points would be set up to prohibit escape. Next, an entry team would be flown in, suspended by cable from a helicopter, and lowered to the ground to make any arrests and secure the camp from within. The perimeter team would round up anyone who happened to make it past the entry team, and then collapse on the site to assist in pulling marijuana plants and cleaning up the garbage. Everything, including the bad guys, would then be flown out in baskets and cargo nets. This approach allows for multiple sites to be eradicated in a single day without wearing out resources.

The plan was put into action, and the law enforcement teams descended upon the grow site. The teams noted how the camp was well hidden within the canopy of trees, with a woven grass matt constructed and hung above the tent in an attempt to prevent detection from aircraft. The kitchenette, while not the envy of Martha Stewart, was complete with a tortilla press and cook stove. Vegetation had been cleared and some trees removed. In this case though, care had been taken to integrate the 15,000 plants with the natural flora in an effort to further avoid looking out of place from the air. Creek water had been diverted to irrigate the farm with the aid of a gas pump. Empty bags of fertilizer were piled up next to a tree.




In this instance, the growers were not home… but they often are. The live-in camp approach seems to be on the increase for plantation sized operations, and poses increased risks. While we have been pretty lucky so far in Washington State, our friends in California have had some really close calls, as illustrated by this sobering news:

The Mercury News (San Jose, California)
Aug. 5, 2005 – “ ………. a state (of California) Fish and Game Warden was shot in both legs and another man was killed during an early morning raid of a large marijuana farm near Mt. Umunhum in a remote area………”
July 11, 2008 – “ …….in what was expected to be a routine pot farm eradication Thursday, state and local officers (in California) encountered three armed men, killing one and chasing two through heavily wooded canyons in the Saratoga hills……”

The number of assaults on law enforcement and increased danger to the public continues to grow, right along with the marijuana plants.

Whenever I hear someone refer to a law enforcement function as “routine,” I cringe. How many times have we heard, “….an officer was shot during a routine traffic stop” or “an officer was injured during a routine license check….”? We are all aware that, as soon as something becomes routine, we will surely get our butts handed to us. So we’re trained to not think that way. Of course, we never know exactly what may be in store for us when we make contacts, whether with a known violator or the general public. But we can try to read the signs, and be as prepared as possible. Here is one example:

Our state Fish and Wildlife Officers collaborated with US Fish and Wildlife Service Officers to conduct a joint foot patrol in the remote area of Saddle Mountain Lake, located on the 80,000 acre refuge in south Grant and Adams Counties. A large portion is closed to public access, providing the privacy and isolation that illegal farmers prefer while living off the land during cultivation. As the team of officers moved through the heavy brush situated along the lakeshore, Officer Horn spotted two men trying to catch breakfast from the bank of a lake closed to fishing. When the suspects saw their badges, they fled into the stands of Russian olive trees. The Officers established a perimeter and summoned additional help consisting of state fish and wildlife officers from Region 2 and the Grant County tactical team. They knew what they really had here, and it had absolutely nothing to do with a closed season trout violation. After several hours, one man emerged from the brush and gave himself up. Officers and Deputies continued to search the area for the second man, who was spotted several times from a plane piloted by a USFWS Special Agent, and eventually caught.

After all that fuss, it would have been a bit embarrassing to not find the real cause of concern for the officers… which they did. The home-away-from-home was found to be equipped with a hidden tent, Coleman stove, and a large supply of food and canned goods. Officers also found fishing poles, a .22 rifle, and numerous bird and rabbit carcasses. The garden area contained approximately 12,000 small, potted marijuana plants, measuring about 3” to 4” tall, that were in the process of being planted into the ground. Officers also located a buried plastic irrigation line that originated out of a canal system over a half-mile away.

Identified as illegal Mexican nationals, the two were turned over to DEA agents for prosecution. One of the men stated that they earn about $20,000 during the summer for planting, cultivating and tending to the plants for someone else. Of course they refused to identify their boss. While still on the scene, an irrigation employee who was checking the area notified Officers that he had located the body of a Hispanic male that had been dumped in the brush about a half-mile away from the grow site. We’ll probably never know for sure if this crime was connected, but it’s probably safe to say that this was not a routine marijuana grow.

The extent to which criminals will go to protect their high-value crops using firearms, booby traps, and other weapons has already been demonstrated in California and other areas with similar experiences. But what about the environmental damage? The dope growers cut down trees, dam creeks, poach fish and wildlife, and leave garbage dumps behind. The introduction of toxic and often banned chemicals (used as fertilizer and insecticide) into the environment is less obvious, but many times these chemicals are mixed in to the natural water sources, creating long-lasting environmental damage.

WDFW managed land was set aside to enhance legitimate outdoor recreation and to sustain fish, wildlife, timber and other natural resources. This increasing trend of the outdoor, live-in pot plantation on public lands is contrary to that mission. The risk to public safety, officer safety, and the environment is very real, and it is increasing along with the expansion of this activity. Right now, our Officers are preparing for yet another growing season…. Highly trained and armed with an eviction notice, they will partner with local law enforcement to do everything they can to prevent your outdoor adventure from colliding with this very real threat to your safety, and your public lands.

You can see more of our Marijuana Eradication Team in action
in our "Force of Nature" video.






Monday, April 23, 2012

Weekly Highlights

What's the Limit Again?

Officer Day and Sergeant Brown conducted a boat patrol on Lake Rufus Woods and observed two men fishing from the bank in a remote location. After watching them for a few minutes, they saw that the two men were in violation. Upon contact, they observed a plastic garbage sack hanging from a tree in the shape of a deceased trout. When Officer Day asked what was in the bag, one of the subjects informed him, “My fish.” Inside the bag they found a pair of wonderful looking triploid rainbow trout. The daily bag limit is only two fish and the man was still unlawfully fishing using multiple rods. Officer Day asked the subject why he was still fishing since he already had his limit, and the fisherman answered with only a sagging of his shoulders and a grim look of defeat in his eyes. Gesturing toward a cooler that he had noticed near the water, Officer Day asked what was in it. “More fish” was the sheepish fisherman's reply. Including the fish in the cooler and the tree, the man’s total was now up to nine trout.

The second subject, who sat innocently in his chair during the exchange while remaining conspicuously aloof to the whole matter never claimed ownership of any of the fish. However, the disparity between Fisherman #1 and Fisherman #2's fish count was soon resolved when a second cooler was located in the back of a pick-up. Fisherman #2 decided now might be a good time to join in the discussion of the rules, and stated that they thought the limit was five fish -- and that half of the fish were caught the night before (sure they were). Sadly, the fishermen’s grand total was twenty-three fish, putting them well over the limit. The officers seized the coolers and the fish.
Officer Day and Sgt. Brown with the seized coolers and fish.

Drunk-n-Dumping

Officer Day received a report from an Okanogan County Sheriff’s Deputy of garbage illegally dumped on the bank of the Methow River at one of our access sites near the town of Twisp. Numerous bags of rotten household garbage, clothes, and a television set were scattered along the banks of the river. Higher river levels from the spring run-off would soon carry away most of the trash. With the help of several technicians from the fisheries field office in Twisp, the trash was collected and a pick-up load of garbage was hauled to the local transfer station where it cost only $11.40 and ten minutes to properly dispose of it. Armed with several pairs of rubber gloves, Officer Day spent an hour digging through the filth in search of clues that might lead him to the origin.

Although the search was disgusting, it was certainly not difficult to find a mountain of evidence leading back to the owner of the garbage, including a driver’s license, prescription pills, telephone bills, and business letters dated as recently as last November. Upon contacting the owner ‘Angel’at her residence, she repeatedly swore she had no idea how her garbage got in the river and even suggested that someone was probably stealing her garbage from the front porch of her trailer. In the meantime, Officer Day observed an extremely nervous man repeatedly raking the same patch of grass in the yard. When Officer Day asked who hauled the garbage away in November, the trash owner pointed at the man in the yard. So Officer Day contacted the obsessive raker and told him Angel was in a lot of trouble because of her garbage and asked him why he threw it into one of the most beautiful rivers in Washington State instead of just leaving it in a pile along the road… In a tribute to bad country music and the most unimaginative excuse for crime ever made, he replied, “I was drunk.” The suspect was charged with the unlawful dumping of the garbage.

Fangs of the Quilcene Livestock Killer

 

The“Quilcene Livestock Killer”

After repeatedly trying to catch the Quilcene Livestock Killer with both a cougar trap and hounds, the third time was the charm. Officers were finally able to bag the problem cougar that had been terrorizing residents and livestock through the use of hounds. This 139-pound, 6’ 10” (tip to tail) cat had already killed one llama, four goats, and one sheep before we caught up with him.

 

Habitual Poacher Jailed…. Again

Officer Chamberlin couldn’t believe his eyes when he spotted a well-known offender fishing from a vessel just above the cork line at the Lewis River Hatchery. Because of his violation history, his fishing privileges had already been revoked…. and yet here he was – fishing! Apparently this individual doesn’t learn too quickly, as Officer Moats also recently caught this guy fishing while revoked in the exact same location. After an hour and a half of observation, Officer Chamberlin decided to make the arrest. Officer Van Vladricken arrived in short order to assist with the contact.

Of course, the fisherman denied having touched a rod and invoked his Miranda Rights, refusing to answer any questions. The other two occupants in the boat lied on his behalf, stating that he had not been fishing. Despite their best efforts, however, the fisherman was taken into custody for fishing while revoked and booked into Cowlitz County Jail. The trailer, fishing vessel, and all its contents were seized for forfeiture proceedings.
The seized boat and trailer

Can You Dig It? Tales of Low-Tide Louts

On Willapa Bay, Officer Jacobson was attracted to a fellow who tried to slip away from his clam digging group undetected. After noticing his absence, Officer Jacobson found him dumping hard shell clams behind a tree down the trail. When he came out, Officer Jacobson asked if the clams in his bucket were all that he had harvested. Of course he chose to lie, making the transgression worse. So Officer Jacobson escorted him behind the tree, where he recovered the rest of the clams. He was cited for failure to submit catch for inspection and over limit.

And in case you’re wondering…. this wasn’t a case of someone who was confused by the limits. This same subject was also contacted by Sgt Chadwick while digging razor clams earlier in the day. He failed to submit his razor clams at that time, and was in the process of taking his second limit. When convicted this will be his third strike – meaning, he will lose his clam digging and fishing privileges for two years. The same man was also cited twice last year for razor clam violations.

In another incident in Mason County, Officer Czebotar zeroed in on a guy who thought hiding extra limits in his car would trick any officers who may be watching…. boy, was he wrong! Back at the parking lot, Officer Czebotar asked the ‘gentleman’ if he could look in his vehicle where he found two additional buckets of clams. Between the two adults and two children who were digging, there was a total of 541 – total legal limit would have been 120 (including those for the kids, who hate to eat clams, by the way). Both adults were issued citations for Over Limit, 1st Degree. In addition, the male subject was issued a citation for failure to submit to a field inspection.
Busted clam poachers

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekly Highlights

Felony Spree Killing Charges Filed Against Three Springdale Residents
Charges were recently filed against three people alleged to have been involved in the killing of three moose. The moose, a pregnant female and two yearlings, were killed at the same time in the same area by three persons using one rifle. The charges are felonies, and a $4,000 civil penalty for each animal attaches upon conviction. There also are pending gross misdemeanor charges related to the same situation.

Over 600 lbs of meat was seized in the investigation, and delivered to a food bank which is a common practice in wildlife cases when fresh meat is seized. The persons charged will make their first appearance in court soon.

New Reality Show?
Officer Bolton provided back-up to the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office and White Salmon Police Department for a fight in progress at the Eagles Club in Bingen. Two subjects were reportedly fighting, with one of them threatening to use a gun. Upon arrival, two bloody men were separated. Turns out, the combatants were the groom and best man in a wedding that was about to take place.

Officer Bolton assisted with witness interviews and then located a dead doe in the bed of the best man’s truck. Fortunately, the subject provided a ceremonial tribal deer permit to cover the animal’s possession, and the two rifles in the vehicle were unloaded.

In the meantime, the bride-to-be had to be ordered away from the scene, as she was yelling at all of the witnesses. The groom was booked for domestic violence. And the wedding? Canceled – for now.

The Black Mamba Strikes
While patrolling in the Bridgeport area, Officer Day observed two men hidden in the brush, fishing near the city boat launch on the Columbia River. He was able to move within a few feet of the heavily intoxicated subjects, and watched them trout fishing during closed season while shooting at coots with a slingshot as the birds swam by.

One of the subjects was identified as “Black Mamba” by the name on the basketball jersey he was wearing. The Black Mamba was heard saying, “Wouldn’t it be _______ (messed) up if the game warden was standing right above us video tapin’ n’ _______ (stuff)?” The Black Mamba then laughed so hard he could barely light his marijuana pipe. It was at this point that Officer Day emerged from hiding and took both men into custody. Both subjects were issued citations for fishing trout and hunting coots closed season.

Dope Poacher
Officer Martin assisted Captain Schlenker and a Sheriff’s Deputy with a deer-poaching investigation in Cowlitz County near Woodland. The 19-year-old suspect had moved out of his home in order to set up a medical marijuana grow and live off the land. His parents would not allow him to have the grow at their home. He constructed a camp on Longview Fibre timberlands, where he had been illegally cutting down trees. He was contacted, confessed, and cited for killing the pregnant doe with a .17 HMR.

Felons and Firearms
For some reason the Wenas Wildlife Area attracted a lot of armed convicts last week. In one instance, Officers Peterson and Scherzinger checked a pickup coming out of the shooting area. The two occupants admitted to target shooting and told Officer Scherzinger their .357 was under the bed liner, an unusual spot for a firearm. But the driver was cited and released for not having a Discover Pass. A short time after breaking contact it was found that the two men were both convicted felons and not allowed to possess the gun. The firearm and the boxes of spent shells were taken as evidence and reports will be sent to the prosecutor for charging.

Off-Road Folly
Officer Martin responded to a lands violation on the Cowlitz Wildlife Area in Randle. The violator drove his SUV past ecology blocks and a posted marker onto the designated walk-in area, only to get buried up to his axles. The driver tried in vain to get unstuck, but it was hopeless. Officer Martin contacted the 25-year-old driver, who immediately became indignant. Eventually, the driver settled down and cooperated with the investigation. A Glenoma towing company assisted with the vehicle recovery at the owner’s request. The driver was cited for the lands trespass violation.

Dangerous Cougar on the Lamb

The customer service staff at the WDFW Region 1 Office in Spokane received a mid-morning report of five sheep that were found dead in their pen at the reporting party's residence. Officer Spurbeck learned that five of the eight yearling lambs in the fenced enclosure were dead, but the reporting party wasn't sure what had killed them, although he did indicate that the kills were recent.

Officer Spurbeck arrived on scene in north Spokane County near Fan Lake, and the landowner led him to the area where the lambs had been killed. From the evidence at the scene, Officer Spurbeck was quickly able to determine that a cougar had killed the lambs.  He requested assistance from Officer Erickson, who was able to contact Ted Kardos, a local hound hunter who was willing to respond and help.  Officer Erickson had already developed a good working relationship with Kardos, who has helped him with these types of incidents in the past.

Officer Erickson and Kardos arrived on scene around 2:30 PM.  Kardos brought two hounds with him and they quickly set out in search of the cougar. Within 15 minutes the hounds had picked up the scent and the cougar was found in a tree about five minutes later.  However, the cougar decided to take the chase back to the ground, leaving the tree after a short time.  The hounds continued the chase. Approximately five minutes later the cougar headed high up into another tree. If it wasn't for a well-placed shotgun slug, the cougar may have stayed in that tree a while longer....

Once a cougar realizes how easy it is to kill domesticated animals or livestock, it will continue to do so. And since domesticated animals and livestock are found near human dwellings, this poses a great risk to public safety. Many thanks to Ted Kardos and his hounds for helping us locate and remove this dangerous cougar before it could return to kill again.