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Notes from the Streams banner
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Notes and observations from around Pennsylvania
from Commission Waterways Conservation Officers
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Credible Witness
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It’s no secret that as Waterways Conservation Officer’s we frequently hear a statement along the lines of “I didn’t know you were there or I wouldn’t have done what I did to get a citation”. Other similar statements are frequently heard as to not ever seeing or being stopped by a warden, also known as WCO’s.

Well it’s not always a bad thing if you don’t see us. We sometimes only expose ourselves when necessary. We lead a very open life to the public, living and working in our respective districts. We choose how, when, and where we patrol and interact with the public to best suit the needs of Law Enforcement. By doing that the public doesn’t always have a hand up on us. One recent event shows a little about that.

During a recent fishing violation detail in Somerset County I had the pleasure of being able to fish in plain clothes and monitor a fishing violation hotspot to assist another officer. During the day I witnessed one particular group of men fishing and catching a good number of trout. Too many trout in fact. They decided to start passing fish onto other stringers and go over their legal limit of 5 trout per angler.

Once I felt that they were leaving I contacted the uniformed officer to come in and make the arrest. Once he arrived he met quite a bit of verbal resistance from the main offender. That man decided to holler at me across the stream and come to his defense. I obliged. When I walked up to the men and uniformed officer, I was asked by the suspect to explain to the officer that I had been fishing near them all day and I could vouch for them only catching 5 trout per person.

It took a lot self-control that day to keep my laughter in. I politely informed the man that I was in fact a WCO myself and I witnessed the violation and called for the uniformed officer. That man didn’t say another word while we handled our business. Just because you don’t see us doesn’t mean we aren’t there.

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— WCO Eric Davis, Greene / S. Washington Counties
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Calling All Gulls
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While on patrol at Lake Wallenpaupack, WCO Tereschak and I were cruising slowly along the shore line when we noticed a swim platform that was covered with seagulls. As we got closer we also noticed another object on the platform. It was one of those plastic owls. I thought that they were designed to keep pesky creatures away from areas. This one was definitely not doing what the manufacturer had intended it to do.

Owl

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— WCO Robert A. Plumb, Pike County
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Not In Season
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This past June, I received a telephone call from the South Abington Township Police Department. Officer Godino stated he responded to call that an individual had placed a large snapping turtle in the trunk of his car. Being an angler, Officer Godino knew snapping turtles were not in season and confiscated the turtle and provided me with the necessary information to file citations against the defendant.

A few days later, I received a complaint that an individual had two snapping turtles in a cooler and killed one turtle leaving the turtle shell hanging in his backyard. I investigated the complaint and the information provided was accurate. The defendant turned over the turtles and provided me with the name and address of the person who provided him with the turtles. A citation was filed for possessing snapping turtles in a closed season.

Having the information provided by one of my defendants, I investigated the allegations he made about receiving the turtles from a friend. It took a couple of days to make contact with my third suspected turtle poacher but he did admit to providing the turtles. A citation was also filed against this defendant for taking snapping turtles in a closed season.

The next time you see a turtle crossing the road, think twice about picking them up. Snapping turtles can only be harvested with a fishing license from July 1st thru October 31st. 

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— WCO Walt Buckman, Lackawanna County
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Trout Magnet?
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While my deputy, Don Anderson, was patrolling approved trout waters during the closed season, he spotted a guy at a hole that had been recently stocked. He noticed the man casting something blue into the creek. Don pulled over and walked in.

By the time Don got there the man was back at his vehicle. Don asked him if he had been fishing and the man replied that he wasn’t. When Don persisted asking, ”what was that blue thing that I saw you cast into the creek?”

The man responded with a sheepish look, “I know I shouldn’t be doing this here at this time of the year but I wasn’t fishing for trout, I was fishing for metal objects.” The man then proceeded to show Don a large magnet attached to a blue cord. The man then showed Don his only catch, an old metal spoon.

Don was unable to find any fishing gear in the man’s vehicle or at the creek so no paperwork was issued just another first for the both of us.

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— WCO Daniel McGuire, Southern Somerset County
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Real Crime
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Twice in as many years I have either arrested or assisted in the arrest of a person Boating Under the Influence (BUI) where either the friends or family on the boat have made the comment “Why don’t you guys go out and arrest real criminals.” One person even went so far as to specify the crimes I should be enforcing: child molesters and bank robbers. As I would love to arrest all the pedophilias and bank robbers out there, my job is to patrol and keep the Waterways of the Commonwealth safe.

Last year officers of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission arrested 92 persons for Boating Under the Influence.

Now I am old enough to remember when drinking and driving was looked at with a wink and a nod (of course I am old enough to remember black & white T.V. too). It wasn’t until MADD and other like organizations got involved in the early 80’s that laws and attitudes began to change, Now that was thirty years ago.

How many times have we all watched a news program where there was a horrific accident: A family that was killed, a promising young life cut short, a father not coming home and a mother never to be with her children a again, all caused by alcohol or drugs, and all of these incidents completely 100% preventable.

Now to answer the question posed to me during those past arrests, Boating Under the Influence is a “Real Crime.” And my fellow officers and I, as real police officers, will make real arrests and hopefully we will all go home safe and sound at the end of the day.

Please have a Safe and Fun Boating Season.

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— WCO Michael E. Johnson, Central Allegheny County
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Metric, Standard English Rule or Flip-flop?
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While patrolling McConnell Pond in Pike County one hot summer day I came across two bare-chested individuals fishing from a small row boat. Not seeing any licenses displayed I hailed to them and motioned for them to come to shore. They did as requested and I asked to see their fishing licenses. Both men stood up and showed me the licenses which were pinned to their very small, black speedos, (the only article of clothing either was wearing).

I then noticed the chain-link stringer hanging over the side of the boat and asked to see the fish. They proudly held up a chain pickerel. I thought the fish might meet the eighteen inch mark, but it would be close.

I looked about their boat, which had two orange type II PFDs and one small Styrofoam worm container but nothing else; no tackle box, measuring tape, nothing. I asked if they had measured the fish. Both men were Eastern European and it was at this point that I hit a small language barrier. I pulled out my measure and my meaning became clear.

“Yes, eighteen inch!” the younger man proudly announced.

I measured the fish and he was correct; eighteen inches on the button.

My curiosity got the better of me and I asked, “What did you use to measure the fish?”  And once again was met by a language barrier. After several minutes of pantomiming I was able to get my meaning across and the younger man reached down and pulled a shower shoe (flip-flop) from under his seat and motioned, “one” with his finger and then a chopping motion with his hand atop the flip-flop indicating a half.

So now I know… Eighteen inches equates to 45.72 centimeters of 1.5 flip-flops, (depending on your shoe size).

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— WCO Curt Tereschak, NE Region
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Humility
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While stocking Lake Wilma early this past season I was given a rare opportunity to learn about humility from our stocking helpers and driver. I will let them remain anonymous so I don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing they got one over on me.

It was a particularly hot day and I was tired already from carrying buckets on Whiteley Creek. Luckily for me Lake Wilma is easily stocked by tubing the trout into the main Lake body. The only work required is carrying the rigid hoses from one side of the truck to the other. EASY.

Well this day our truck seemed to be a little short on the rigid hose so we had to attach the soft flexible blue hose on the end to make it to the water. Again, EASY.

Well, we shot 2 tanks in and I had presumed that we were empty. Here’s where the humility comes into play. I began to shake the rigid tubes to force any straggler trout out, and then sort of squeezed out the last few trout in the soft hose. I then rolled the soft blue hose all the way up and began to disconnect the fittings of all the hoses.

Thinking that was the last tank and not keeping a very good count on the day taught me one thing. Your helpers and driver will let you work and sweat and get all the way done with rolling and disconnecting rigid lines before asking what you’re doing. WE HAD 2 TANKS LEFT!!!

Thanks you two for the lesson and the welcome back to trout season.

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— WCO Eric Davis, Greene / S. Washington Counties
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Man’s BEST Friend???
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Last summer, DWCO Wetsell and I were on boat patrol at Canadohta Lake. We observed a small pontoon boat less than 20 feet in length being operated with someone on the bow outside the passenger carrying area. Upon closer look the person on the bow was a child less than 12 years old not wearing a personal floatation device (PFD).

We stopped the boat and advised the operator of the violations:
1–A child 12 years old or less on a boat 20 feet or less not wearing a PFD while underway.
2–A person riding outside the passenger carrying area on a pontoon boat.

The operator advised us that he didn’t realize the child was outside the passenger carrying area and that the child only had the PFD off for a short time because it was so “hot.”

While the violations were being addressed, there was a cute little dog that kept darting around on the pontoon boat. An interesting observation we had was that even though it was so ”hot” the cute little dog that was running all over the boat had to keep it’s PFD on the whole time. Additionally, it wasn’t allowed outside the passenger carrying area so it wouldn’t fall off.

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— WCO Terry Crecraft, Eastern Crawford County/SW Warren County
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Get Back to Work
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Opening day of trout season was busy this year in Butler County.  The weather was cooperative and the anglers were hungry for some excitement following a long, bitterly cold winter.

Harbor Acres Lake was packed with anglers.  It took me two hours to check the nearly 500 anglers who surrounded the lake. Just as I was leaving, a precocious young angler - maybe 12 years old, four foot tall, wearing black rimmed cat’s eye glasses, with tackle box in one hand and fishing pole in the other - stopped me for a conversation. His Dad proudly noted that it was his son’s first year of fishing.

This young man began asking me a series of questions and making statements with rapid fire precision. He was so excited and spoke so quickly he didn’t allow me any time to respond: “I like to fish.” “How many fish are in this lake?” “I can cast really far with this pole.” “Are there any sharks here?” He stopped just long enough for me to answer his shark question. I replied, “There are no sharks in here. Sharks live in the oceans.” He paused for a second, reflecting on my answer.

As quickly as the questions were asked, they ended. He turned towards the lake and as he walked away he said, “Ok, you can go back to work now.”

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— WCO Jonathan Kay, Butler County
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Perspective
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While patrolling a popular swimming area on one of my favorite streams, I observed several swimmers jumping from rocks into the cool waters of a deep hole. This particular section of stream is notorious for littering, so I remained hidden and watched to see if any members of this group were going to add their empty cans to the already large number scattered on the ground near the stream.

At first, all seemed well and this group momentarily restored my faith in humanity because they were putting all their empty cans into a garbage bag. I was just about to move on when I noticed that one of the guys walked over and picked up a can that had been discarded earlier by some other group. Unfortunately, instead of putting the can into the garbage bag, he threw it into the water. He then picked up 18 other cans and threw each of them into the water where they eventually settled to the stream bottom.

As you may imagine I was quite eager to introduce myself to this individual but was a little shocked by his perspective of what had occurred. According to this guy, he has no tolerance for litter and as a result had to get rid of all those empty cans lying around on the ground.

When I asked him why he threw them in the stream instead of putting them into the garbage bag that he and his group had been using, he stated that they were not his cans and therefore not his responsibility. I explained to him that according to the law once he touched them they became his responsibility. He disagreed, but fortunately the judge agreed with me and found him guilty.

I’m just glad that this guy had no tolerance for littering otherwise who knows how much stuff would have ended up in the stream instead of just 19 cans.

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— WCO Scott Opfer, Northern Wayne County
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Picture This
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DWCO Ney and I were on boat patrol, on the Susquehanna River, when we noticed something amiss. As we approached the individual’s watercraft we began a standard boat boarding; checking license, creel, and boating safety equipment.

During the check, one of the fishermen handed me his phone. Momentarily confused I asked a second time, for his fishing license? He said, “Isn’t it there?” His voice was brimming with confidence as he motioned and pointed to the screen of his phone.

Sure enough on the phone was a picture of his license. The man continued to explain he purchased the license online, the night before, however ran out of printer paper. So he quickly snapped a picture of the license on the computer screen.

I explained I would give him the opportunity to prove the license was valid. The man did as I requested and I received the license several days later.

Perhaps a just penalty for not having his license, while fishing, we should have requested he display his phone on his fishing vest.

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— WCO Mark A. Sweppenhiser, N. Dauphin/Lower Northumberland Counties
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Isn't That A Daisy
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In each district there is at least one spot which continually draws the wrong crowd; a place where no amount of policing ever seems to dent the thick-headed attitude of those who abuse rather than use. One of ours was located adjacent to both an outdated rail line and isolated approved trout water. Since long before my time, I mean on earth not just on the job, this spot drew the crème de la crème of vagabonds and riff-raff.

So, naturally, when I returned home, we decided it was time to do some housecleaning. For years, wrongdoings came with the ease of picking daisies. We hit the trouble spots without regard to day of week, and they didn’t know if we’d show up at noon, midnight, or both. Sure, there was an ebb and flow; but, despite the constant collecting, our flowers always returned.

Then we began to notice that families rather than felons were who we were talking to— in the daytime at first; then at night, too. Signage that we placed remained, rather than being used as tinder for their fires. The ground around the tents was being cleaned and raked, rather than littered with cans and party remnants. Placed outside those tents, we began to find tricycles and sand toys, rather than kegs and spent casings.

To be sure, voluntary compliance is the goal of my job; however, I still have to work 40 hours a week. When this hot-spot, as well as numerous others within the district, began to dry-up, patrols took on all the tangible charm of finding Bigfoot.

So, we changed-up our tactics; perhaps we weren’t as unpredictable as we thought. Simply, they had adjusted to us. Weeks came and went with little change, then months; yet we kept shaking things up and turning them upside down.

Very early one Sunday morning we walked in to have a listen, and we clearly heard music as we stood beside the old grade. Like a hundred times before, our wayward travelers had simply passed out after a hard night and left the radio playing. Entering the flats where the tents could always be found, we discovered nothing. Yet, the music kept on. Beside the creek, that’s where they were! Onward we went.

Then it happened… we reached the creek and, sure enough, there they were— a local church group, joyfully conducting a sunrise service and performing baptisms. The music was an acoustic guitar being used to assist with the selected hymns. We conducted introductions, wished them good tidings, then politely excused ourselves; for, obviously, at this point, I felt as though my cynicism knew no bounds!! With ministers now replacing miscreants, it appears, at least for the near future, that we’ve reached the end of the line for this bygone Babylon.

However, time has taught that crime really isn’t stopped, just moved. Rule to live by #11 tells me to carry on and continue to turn over rocks… but, those rules are another story for another time.

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— WCO Mark T. Kerr, Venango County
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A Snake to be Feared
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This February has been one of the coldest on record so when I received a call from Captain Bednarchik about a woman who found a rattlesnake in her house I was surprised. The woman reported that she had put the snake into a plastic shopping bag and put it on top of her garbage cans outside of her house.

My husband, WCO Jerry Czech of the PA Game Commission was riding with me that day. When I relayed the reported information to him he replied “That’s why I’m a Game Warden and not a Fish Warden.” He has an unrealistic fear of snakes.

Upon arrival at the address, we found a small Wawa shopping bag tied at the top sitting on top of the garbage cans. I retrieved the bag and immediately knew that it was NOT a rattlesnake (not that I had much suspicion it would be). The small pencil size snake was stiff and coiled in the bag but the tail was apparent through the semi-opaque bag.

I placed the bag on WCO Jerry Czech’s lap and he looked at me like I had four heads. I said “Relax, it’s not a rattlesnake and it’s frozen.”

After checking on a pollution in the area we headed back to our headquarters. We carried all of our equipment and supplies into the house and I put the bag with the snake on the kitchen island. I put my briefcase away and went to open the bag to identify the type of snake.

Jerry happened to be behind me when I opened the bag and low and behold the little garter snake poked his head out of the bag. Jerry screamed and jumped back about 10 feet yelling “it was alive on my lap.” After I finished laughing, the snake was put into a small cage for release in the spring.

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— WCO Erin Czech, East Philadelphia County
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