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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One GAME Warden in the Valley…

Feb. snow

Between today’s La Nina’s snow tantrums I thought I’d better take my Valley exercise while I can. According to the Doppler guys and their weather “models,” (no, I’m not talking about those vapid blonde weather gals, either), access to and from the Valley the next couple of days might best be done in a County snowplow.

But now the sun is shining as I approach the Swiss Hall parking lot where an official looking ( “gun”metal gray and shortwave antenna-equipped) pickup idles. I can see some sort of badge on the driver’s side door. Ah, ha! I see this pickup’s been deputized! I sidle up to the truck, stoop to avoid the glare, but before I can make out the official message, a friendly voice says, “Yes, I’m a game warden.” I stand to examine the source of the voice. A young man wearing an official jacket with an official government patch on the sleeve grins out at me from the cab. But it is an unofficial grin. He has a tidy looking beard coming but looks like he should be at home having his mom adjust his tux and bowtie for his senior prom, topping him off with a strategically pinned boutonniere.

Lance Stevens, Fish and Wildlife Officer #W145, is an affable young man of an age, if he chose to hold you at gunpoint with a “FREEZE! Game warden!”  you’d double over in laughter. I ask him if the Valley needs close scrutiny these days. “No,” he replies, “We’re past hunting seasons and the rivers are closed.” He’s sunning himself in his official government truck, doing some “idling” paperwork when I interrupt him. I’m impressed from the onset by a government official who doesn’t treat a citizen officiously; it’s just one man to another when we talk, like we’re longtime Valley neighbors. 

As you know, The Ripple has a strange sense of humor; I pat the pockets of my sweatpants and say, “Oh, oh! I forgot my license at home!” Lance laughs, and says, “You don’t need a license to walk in the Valley!” (Oh, Lance, Lance, but what about artistic license, eh?) I tell him my huntin’ days are over—got that and skiing out of my system when I was a kid. The only shotgunning I do these days, I tell Lance the Kid is self-defense: shooting moles with my .410 “molester.” I briefly explain my tactics: “when the earth moves, push it back with # six shot.” After all, a man has to protect his property. Second Amendment rights, remember? Lance smiles and then remembers the patch on his jacket. “You know that body-grip traps are illegal, don’t you?”Our dialogue shifts quickly to the year 2000 initiative that forbade trapping critters with “inhumane” body-grip traps.

I tell Officer W145 I know all about this nonsensical directive sponsored by animal rights groups (i.e. PETA, for one). In 2000 these groups rallied around Initiative 713 which declared it a “gross misdemeanor to capture an animal with a steel-jawed leghold trap, neck snare, or other body-gripping trap.” The initiative passed and now by legislative decree it is illegal for one to use such a trap to control these persistent little earthmovers--even on his own property. Little matter that they turn your landscape into a moonscape, drill subterranean air ducts through your flower and shrub roots, excavate their own personal catacombs beneath your well-maintained lawn.

“You know,” I say, “this subject came up a couple years ago on a talk show I listen to.” The“Kid”grins, and says, ‘Dori Monson!” “That’s right,” I say, “I even called the show to weigh in on the issue.” The issue being the rights of one hard working entrepreneur, The Mole Guy, to make an honest living while at the same time providing a valuable service to the home gardener.

“That was my case,” Officer Stevens responds. Not the bravado or swagger of a lawman, but a mere statement of fact. "You’re kidding me!” I exclaim. (I’m always surprised at how often the “Six Degrees of Separation”phenomenon carries over to the Valley news; Officer Stevens and I may not agree “for the record” just what constitutes justice and individual property rights, but we do listen to the same radio show.)

“Were you subpoenaed?And did you testify?” I ask. “Yes, I did,” Lance nods. The “Kid”goes on to say that the case went all the way to the State Supreme Court, has yet to be resolved and is now working its way back through the lower courts. “And The Mole Guy?” I asked. “He’s still running his business until the case is decided,” Officer Stevens informs me. (Thus the sign I saw on a tree the other day.)

I seize the opportunity to take advantage of Lance’s candor concerning the issue of squeezing little varmints to death. “Part of the foolishness of this whole business,” I complain, “are some of the inconsistencies.” I mention it is not illegal to manufacture or sell mole traps—you can buy them in any hardware or garden supply outlet—but they’re against the law if you use them yourself or employ the services of “hit man” to trap them on your property. “And snap traps,”I continue, “for rats and mice:  they’re legal.” The “Kid” nods. “They’re body-grippers,” I say, thinking about the deep groove a snap trap striker imprints across the cranium of a mouse. “Yes, but mice are ‘unclassified.’”I laugh,“Try telling that to a woman!” And what qualifies a mole for “classification,"anyway! “I look at the numerous mounds of earth dotting the cornfields and pasture land. “Last I heard, moles are not an endangered species,” I exclaim. Lance agrees they’re not.

Officer Stevens, continuing his candor on the subject admits it’s a “poor use of government resources” to enforce I-713. “And,”Lance continues,”if someone like yourself sets a trap on your property, we generally turn our heads—but 713 is the law and it’s our job to enforce it—regardless.” In fact the initiative has created an arena of contentiousness, pitting “The Mole Guy” against commercial exterminator businesses, I’m told. Mole Guy, small businessman that he is, is still is making a living commercially trapping moles. “And we have the big guys breathing down our necks, crying ‘Foul,’” Lance shakes his head.

We move on to other topics, other responsibilities of the Fish and Wildlife Department. Stevens tells me he’s lucky to be in an area of law enforcement that’s much less stressful: no domestic violence calls, no homicides, no home invasion burglaries or bank heists to deal with. “Mostly illegal hunting issues. Out of season stuff. Some drug problems.” I ask him if he’s ever come across any horticulture of the “controlled substance” kind. (Big problem, this, in the State and National Forests of eastern Washington.) “Oh, yes,” Lance nods.

“By the way,”I ask, “I thought today was a furlough day for State workers. Why are you out here in the Valley on your “day off?” “Just doing some paperwork afield, some patrolling, making sure everyone’s behaving themselves.” He’s about to make his way up in the hills off the Ben Howard Road. But before we go our separate ways, friendly Officer Lance Stevens gives me his business card. I introduce myself, tell him I’m out in the Valley often, do a little snooping myself. “Well, if you ever see anything you think might be our business, give me a call.” “Be glad to,” I say, and as I take one last look at the official-looking Fish and Wildlife patch on Lance’s shoulder, I can’t help but send him merrily on his way with a parting shot. “No offense, or anything,” I say, “but if The Mole Guy ever needs a character witness to support his case, I’ll be glad to drop whatever I’m doing and head for the witness box!”

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