An aerial and foot patrol of the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in south Grant and Adams counties this week by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement officers turned up a large marijuana-growing operation.
The drug case was turned over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but wildlife officers also plan to investigate public-lands abuse and fish and wildlife poaching by two men who were living off the land.
“We located a buried plastic irrigation line running over a half mile from a local canal system to the growing operation of over 12,000 marijuana plants,” said WDFW Northcentral Region Captain Chris Anderson. “We also found many dead birds, rabbit carcasses and fishing poles, indicating they had been supplementing their long-term camp’s food supply with illegal game.”
Anderson noted this isn’t the first marijuana-growing operation to be found on the remote 80,000-acre wildlife refuge.
“A large part of the refuge along the Columbia River near Vernita is closed to public access, providing the privacy and isolation illegal gardeners prefer,” he said.
After first spotting the illegal crop from the air, a foot-patrol team found two men, the suspected growers, fishing from the bank of Saddle Lake. The lake is closed to fishing.
WDFW Enforcement Program Deputy Chief Mike Cenci said that unfortunately such abuse of state and federal public lands has become more common.
“Our patrols are looking for poaching, squatters, vandalism, off-road habitat destruction, and other illegal activity,” Cenci said. “We take all these abuses of the public’s land very seriously.”