God help us if state budget cuts start whittling away at the already low number of Fish and Wildlife police patrolling Washington.
The four or five agents who might be scattered around 100,000 square miles of far-Eastern Washington on a given day could write tickets day and night. The woods and streams are crawling with people who violate the rules set to assure a steady supply of wildlife.
One state wildlife officer patrolling the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers last week wrote 14 citations in four hours. I’m not sure you could write up more violators doing breathalyzer tests at the Apple Cup.
Catching wildlife poachers is more difficult, since they’re not concentrated along streams. Cases can take days or weeks to make. Yet just last week, Fish and Wildlife police made 48 arrests and issued 24 warnings in the Spokane Region, according to Capt. Mike Whorton.
Failure to tag a deer or using someone else’s tag on a deer were common infractions, but officers had to deal with much more. Here’s a mere sampling from last week.
How to raise a kid: A deer decoy sting suckered what Whorton described as “one of the more notorious road-hunting families in the Spokane area.” Officers staked out the decoy and wrote tickets after the father encouraged his unlicensed 15-year-old son to shoot the decoy.
Incidentally, Whorton said the deer decoy has taken a beating this year in areas where road-hunting or spotlighting is targeted.
You must be mistaken: An anonymous report that an Elk resident had possibly poached a doe and hung it in his front yard wrapped in a sheet led an officer to stake out the residence one evening.
A neighbor foiled the bust with a phone call to the suspect, but the officer eventually contacted the suspect by phone that night. The suspect had a good story: His son-in-law had killed a legal buck on his property. The buck was tagged and the officer must have missed seeing the antlers hanging in the tree.
Consent was given over the phone for the officer to return the next day and inspect the deer. Indeed, everything looked just as the suspect had described. But the officer had made photos the previous day. A comparison showed the area had been tampered with overnight.
The case was made, citations issued and the suspect’s rifle and the deer were seized.
Head-in-sand approach: An officer patrolling the Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge found three whitetail bucks that did not meet the four-point minimum.
In each case the deer were in plain view and the shooters said they had not been aware of the rule change. The deer were donated to the Colville Food Bank.
Didn’t buy his story: Two officers responded to a tip involving trespassing and the killing of a large buck in Ferry County, where deer hunting was closed. Two suspects from Western Washington were stopped, but they were composed and did not seem the least bit nervous.
The officers checked the pickup, collected a quick verbal statement and released the men.
However, the officers drove to the reported site and found where the large buck had been killed on private property. A foot of snow made it easy to see where the suspects had dragged the deer carcass across two grass fields and Highway 395 before stashing it in brush.
Tire tracks at the scene matched the pattern observed on the truck.
The men were arrested later as they approached a mobile home where the big buck had been left. The suspect’s custom-made rifle and 1999 Ford F-350 diesel 4x4 pickup were seized and will be processed for forfeiture.
Incidentally, a check with Clallam County officers and USFW special agents indicated one suspect was no stranger to poaching investigations.
One man’s garbage: Sometimes officers and sportsmen simply work together to keep their image clean.
After hunters called in a tip, a WDFW officer rummaged through trash someone had dumped on private timber company land. The officer later contacted the person whose name showed up several times in the garbage.
The elderly man was surprised, noting that he paid his neighbor to dump his trash once a month. The officer drove over and contacted the suspect as he was driving away from his home. The driver lied to the officer about his name but confessed he had a suspended driver’s license.
As the officer escorted the suspect back to his residence for proper I.D., the driver fled into the home and out the back door. With help from the suspect’s brother, the officer was able to talk the suspect out of the woods. He was booked on a misdemeanor warrant, driving while license suspended and for litter more than 1 cubic yard.
The next day, the judge set bail for $10,000, proving that one man’s garbage could be another’s treasure.
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.