Although sportsmen occasionally see them during the rare spot check of fishing or hunting licenses, Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Police do most of their work under our radar.
The officers, few and far between, have little time for being on display. They meet with hunter education students, chase down druggies, help farmers deal with crop-eating game, write tickets and carry out myriad other tasks, not the least of which is following cases through the courts.
In between the routine stuff, they bag poachers.
They nail the guys who steal wildlife from the law-abiding public.
This work goes largely unreported and unappreciated because the big cases often require months of investigative work and more months to work through the courts.
So let’s pause to celebrate just a sampling of the trophy cases bagged last fall by the 22 officers in the 10 counties of the Spokane region.
Serial poacher: A late November tip led one officer to five illegally killed deer in a south Spokane County location with a walk-in cooler.
The investigation led to hefty fines for Spokane resident Richard Frailey, 57, who paid the court $6,000 for the illegally killed deer and $800 for return of the .243 rifle the officer had seized. He also paid $1,000 in criminal fines. William Whalen, 68, of Spokane was connected to the case and paid $378 for not tagging his deer.
Closed-season elk: In early October, officers responded to a tip about an elk shot east of Spangle before the season opened. The suspects took the trophy head but left the meat to waste.
Another lead helped the officers track down and get confessions from Chance Bonham, 25, and Jason Entwistle, 33, of Spokane. They said they were just out drinking and having a good time spotlighting when the bull crossed in front of them.
The case is pending, but two rifles were seized and multiple big-game gross misdemeanor charges were filed – including unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Another bull elk killed out of season in northern Spokane County was reported three days after a landowner had scared off the culprits while they were field dressing the animal. Several weeks of investigation led to the arrest of a 31-year-old Spokane man. The case is still pending.
A husband-wife poaching team admitted to killing a trophy-class bull elk on Mica Peak after an officer followed a tip to their door. The husband, who held an archery elk tag, had shot the monster bull with a rifle on Nov. 3 and placed his wife’s modern firearm elk tag on the animal. True love.
The elk and rifle were seized; fines totaled $7,620.
Spotlighters in the spotlight: Guiseppe Dippolito, 20, of Hayden and William Finlay, 18, of Rathrum were charged for spotlighting and using a crossbow and rifle to kill multiple deer during closed season near Medical Lake. But they didn’t confess until a tip from a witness and the help of Idaho Fish and Game Department conservation officers helped a Spokane officer track them down.
Cheney hunting club busted: Undercover Fish and Wildlife Police officers booked hunts with the Canyon Hunting Ranch owned by Don Belsby in 2009 and 2010. Result: At least 13 citations have been filed involving 10 individuals. Charges included exceeding the mule deer bag limit, hunting with the aid of a motor vehicle and failure to tag wildlife.
One of the mule deer poached was a trophy, which carries $6,000 wildlife penalty. Other penalties total $13,000 plus a couple of seized rifles and license suspensions.
“A lot of cooperation is needed to make these cases,” said Capt. Mike Whorton, who supervises the Spokane Region officers.
Poaching cases would get bogged down in the overcrowded court dockets without the help of Spokane County prosecutor’s District Court Supervisor, Brian O’Brien, Whorton said. “His leadership has really ramped it up for us.’
You may have noticed that another major cooperator often is involved in major poaching busts.
Indeed, the eyes of the public are the front lines of wildlife enforcement. Tipsters, too, work largely under our radar, for the benefit of all.