A week in the lives of area wildlife enforcement officers isn’t totally consumed by poachers and game hogs.
The modern game warden is a jack of trades, including public speaking, cougar tracking, moose hauling and even sniffing out marijuana growing operations.
These men and women are spread thin, with only about two agents per county on the average in Eastern Washington.
But reading the weekly report summarizing their activities is an eye-opener.
The 17 Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officers patrolling the 10 easternmost counties for the recent first four days of the lowland fishing season made contact with about 500 people. From those encounters, they issued 49 tickets and more than 45 warnings, according to Sgt. Dan Rahn in Spokane.
In other words, nearly one in five people they encountered out there needed either a slap on the wrist or a trip to the slammer.
“That’s an unusual week because we’re so focused on fishing,” said Capt. Mike Whorton, the regional enforcement chief. “We put virtually all hands in the field for the opener because it’s a good opportunity for enforcement officers to get the word out about things like boat safety laws, wildlife regulations and licensing requirements,” he said.
But even with the emphasis on the season opener, checking anglers was only a fraction of their work.
Last week alone, area agents nabbed druggies with illegal substances ranging from marijuana to opium.
Indeed, the Fish and Wildlife Department has gone so far as to train a “marijuana eradication team” to handle drug-growing operations that are cropping up more regularly on state wildlife lands.
Whorton’s routine patrol at Fish Lake near Cheney on opening day rounded up three crooks who had arrest warrants for stolen vehicles and other charges unrelated to fishing.
Here’s a partial list of the other activities engaging this region’s officers last week:
•Appearing in court hearings to follow up on cases they had made in the past.
•Reining in two young men who were harassing a mountain goat on a cliff near Horseshoe Lake.
•Probing a moose carcass for bullet fragments in a poaching case.
•Responding to complaints about cougars and a bear around homes near Northport.
•Investigating possible violations of laws protecting habitat for threatened or endangered species.
•Helping deal with problem beavers, including two that are raising havoc at the Swan Lake Campground.
•Attempting to locate owners of dogs that were reportedly chasing deer.
•Working with Pullman airport staff to address ducks on the runway.
•Answering a complaint about a pregnant coyote near the Spokane YMCA.
•Speaking to a community college criminal justice class.
•Applying for boating safety grants.
•Contacting master hunter volunteers to help a landowner rebuild a fence damaged by elk.
•Meeting with a south Stevens County landowner concerned about a neighbor operating a hunting guide business.
•Staffing a booth at the Sportsman’s show in Colville and helping with hunter education classes.
•Stopping by Sportsman’s Warehouse to help clear up a question clerks had about archery gear.
•Making routine visits to license dealers.
•Attending a landowner meeting in Dayton regarding a windmill project.
•Conducting annual pistol inspections.
That’s just a sampling of the week in which they were mostly focused on fishing season.
“We cover a lot of bases,” Whorton said, in the understatement of the week.
As active as wildlife officers are, they don’t take kindly to an unnecessary walk.
One officer was planning to cut some slack to a fisherman who didn’t have his license in his possession when contacted at West Medical Lake.
“He told the officer he’d bought the license but forgot it at home,” Sgt. Rahn reported. “But when our officer walked back and checked on his computer he found out the man was lying, so he went back and gave the guy two tickets.
“The ticket for misinforming an enforcement officer is a mandatory court appearance that will cost the guy more than the ticket for not having a license.”
Ongoing efforts: The agency has posted signs in several eastern European languages at the Sprague Lake public access area to help curtail apparent cultural misunderstandings about fishing rules and daily limits.
Recent trends: “We’re seeing people who are not the purest of turkey hunters, something we didn’t see so much 10 years ago when there weren’t so many turkeys around,” Whorton said. “Basically we’re seeing people out road-hunting turkeys: Just driving around looking for an opportunistic situation. That can cause some problems.”
Emphasis patrol: “We do our best to meet with schools and youth groups to let kids know who we are and recognize we’re out to protect their fish and wildlife resources,” Whorton said.