Fish & Feathers: WDFW cuts create more risk of poaching

<I>RON MALAST photo</I><BR>The abundance of big game we take for granted on the Peninsula is at risk statewide because of poachers.

This past week a story was released by the Associated Press that took the wraps off the inadequate staffing of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It has been the talk of the town amongst legal hunters and fisherman alike and probably a boon to poachers statewide.

The question is, why did the state identify the areas where the shortfall of WDFW enforcement is most evident?

The report states that four game wardens are allocated to Cowlitz County but two are on medical leave, one transferred to another county and the fourth retired in 2008. Routine enforcement in Cowlitz County is zero. The state might as well put up a billboard: "welcome poachers!"

"We're not covering anything," said Sgt. Ted Holden, who is stationed in Lewis County and oversees Cowlitz County officers. There is one lone officer in Wahkiakum County.

The same report said that in Okanogan County, a region bigger than some New England states, WDFW has only two officers and one sergeant. There are similar examples throughout the state, but why advertise it?

In 1993 there were 117 enforcement offices. Now 96 officers patrol the state, although the state's population has risen 20 percent. State government officials are looking to cut the WDFW shortfall budget another $20 million in the next budget cycle, so there appears to be no end in sight.

A report released just last week by the state of Oregon estimates that poachers in Oregon killed just about as many deer and elk as legal licensed hunters. The even sadder part of this picture is that most of the animals the poachers kill are does or cows, the most vital links in the reproductive cycle.

So what's the answer?

A. We could use National Guardsmen who are not serving overseas and are already getting paid to do ride-a-longs with WDFW officers or do menial jobs to free-up enforcement officers for other duties.

B. Increase rewards for turning in poachers from 10 points towards your next doe tag to cash: Money talks!

C. Probably the least popular solution (opposed by WDFW) is to incorporate some Washington State Troopers in rural areas to serve double duty and supplement WDFW's diminishing staff. There are currently 635 Washington State Troopers in this state. Both agencies (WSP and WDFW) use the same radio communications and dispatching facilities. Currently, only the states of Alaska and Oregon utilize this dual responsibility.

D. In my personal estimation, based on talking to WDFW enforcement officers and following enforcement cases, the real problem falls on the judicial system and its inability to wage war on the offenders. Judges are too lenient in enforcing fines and imposing jail time. Reduced fines and plea-bargaining are the biggest culprits.

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