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On the Front Lines: State fish and wildlife police offer tips and pleas as state lands open to the public

Enforcement officer Doug King of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is photographed in Spokane Valley on Monday, May 4. The Oopening of state parks, and allowing some hunting and fishing is part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan in the reopening of the state of Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all of the parks are included. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Enforcement officer Doug King of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is photographed in Spokane Valley on Monday, May 4. The Oopening of state parks, and allowing some hunting and fishing is part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan in the reopening of the state of Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all of the parks are included. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: On the Front Lines recognizes those in the community who are confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on, while the rest of us do our part by stepping back.

Officer Doug King of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police is ready for a special “opener” Tuesday.

On Tuesday not only are state lands part of phase 1 of Washington’s pandemic reopening plan, but fishing and multiple hunting seasons open as well.

King, who works in Stevens County, expects the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order will likely cause more people to take advantage of Tuesday’s reopening.

“I’ve seen that this whole thing has actually brought people outside,” King said.

The reopening will be a chance for King and his fellow officers to get back to their regular duties. During the last month, they have been transporting more than 10,000 test kits and thousands of items of personal protective equipment across the state.

“We did it like the Pony Express,” said Captain Dan Rahn, who oversees the majority of Eastern Washington’s WDFW police officers.

WDFW police are commissioned law enforcement officers who attend the same academy as all state law enforcement officers. Their primary focus is enforcing fish and wildlife laws, but they often serve as backup to other agencies and can make arrests, Rahn explained.

For King, working for WDFW was a chance to not only spend his days outside but to help with conservation. King studied biology in college but then realized “the enforcement side was an essential side of conservation.” He has been with the WDFW police since 2012, serving in Stevens County for the last three years.

He said the county is full of “hidden gems.”

“It’s just stunningly beautiful,” King said.

King said his work is seasonal based on hunting and fishing seasons, with public safety always at the forefront. The summer is focused on boating and fishing.

“I think it’s going to be like any opener,” King said of Tuesday. “It’s making sure that people aren’t taking advantage of the public resource.”

When it comes to fishing, especially in lakes that have been stocked with fish, “it’s sometimes pretty easy to catch your limit,” King said.

WDFW police focused on education during the past month while state lands were closed. Officers explained to people violating the order why state lands were closed – namely, because the process of getting to an area where individuals could fish or hunt, Rahn said, also meant stopping at convenience stores, picking up supplies and staying at hotels.

“I find myself doing a lot more education,” King said.

In Region 1, which stretches from the Canadian border to the Oregon border, there were only a couple hundred warnings issued about the closures, Rahn said.

Now with state lands reopening, King and his fellow officers can return to enforcing fishing and wildlife laws, while encouraging people to social distance.

“Thankfully we work outside which allows us to do a lot of this stuff,” King said of social distancing recommendations.

While state boat launches will be open, docks aren’t yet installed, and King said to expect long lines to put in.

“Be prepared for things to take a little longer at the launches and show grace in that because we’ve all been fed up and we’re all out there to enjoy the same thing,” King said.

When it comes to spring turkey season, King advised hunters to start at higher altitudes than they normally would at the beginning of the season.

“The downside is that the really kind of hot and heavy time to call in turkeys, those first two weeks, are ideal for that,” King said. “I would tell people to go higher than they normally would earlier.”

King said there are often more accidents during turkey season because of the way turkeys are called in and the camouflage hunters wear. He reminded hunters to obey safety rules.

King’s biggest advice for reopening though was pretty simple: “Have fun and get outdoors.”

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