Jason Day’s job often is at the intersection of animals and humans
By Ann McCreary
If you call the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) about a cougar in your chicken coop, or a moose in your apple orchard, odds are WDFW officer Jason Day will be the one who responds.
Much of his work as a WDFW police officer involves helping people deal with wildlife encounters that are part of life in a rural area. But there’s another part of Day’s work that he finds even more gratifying.
“I like catching the really bad guys,” Day said.
Day was named Washington state’s 2016 WDFW Enforcement Officer of the Year in a ceremony in Seattle in February. In his seventh year with WDFW, Day lives in Carlton and works primarily in Okanogan and north Douglas counties.
“Officer Day was recognized for his people skills and his protection of the natural resources in our state,” said his boss, WDFW Sgt. Dan Christensen.
People skills are essential to the work of Day and his WDFW law enforcement colleagues. Although his title has “fish and wildlife” in it, people are usually the focus of his work.
“If there were not people, the animals wouldn’t need me,” Day said in a recent interview. “My job is based for the most part on human interactions with nature. There are a lot of different facets to the job, but almost all revolve around dealing with people.”
Catching ‘bad guys’
That includes the “bad guys” that Day likes to catch, like the three men facing charges as a result of an investigation by Day last summer.
Day received a phone call one evening from a resident near Riverside, who reported that people with dogs had treed and shot a bear.
When Day arrived to investigate, he found that gates on private land had been destroyed, and discovered a dead bear that had been shot and pushed into a gully in an attempt to hide the animal.
Day developed suspects and, working with other criminal justice agencies, was able to obtain evidence from the suspects’ cell phones.
The three men, all in their 20s, had been chasing bears with dogs and shooting them. In the process they had broken through several gates on private and public property.
“It was thrill killing,” Day said.
The men are now facing a number of charges in both state and tribal courts, he said.
“That’s one of the biggest perks of this job … you get to go out and catch the bad guys who are doing really bad things,” Day said.
In addition to cases that involve wildlife, Day and his WDFW colleagues are involved in all areas of law enforcement, such as traffic violations, drug-related crimes, theft and enforcing protection orders.
WDFW police attend the same police academy as officers of other law enforcement agencies, Day said.
In dealing with regulations related to hunting and fishing, Day compares his role to that of a “referee … you’re calling fouls and deciding whether to throw a flag,” he said.
“There are hunters and fishermen out there that accidentally break the law. I see that more as refereeing a sport,” he said.
“Then there are bad people breaking the law out in nature … doing bad things out there,” Day said. He and other WDFW officers work to make sure public lands “are safe places to recreate.”
Methow is ‘interesting’
Raised in Tonasket, Day graduated with a degree in biology from Western Washington University, and worked in fisheries biology for a while. He enjoyed working outdoors, “but I didn’t interact with people as much as I wanted,” and he moved into law enforcement.
Day began working in the Methow Valley about two years ago, when Cal Treser retired after working for 16 years in the valley and surrounding area.
Day worked previously in Grant County and the Tri-Cities area. He said he enjoys the variety that comes with working in the Methow Valley.
“The Methow is much more interesting. We have species listed under the Endangered Species Act. We go from Washington Pass and the Cascade Crest to the Columbia River. We have big seasonal differences … and a lot of out-of-towners coming in and treating it as vacationland,” Day said.
The job offers plenty of interactions with wildlife, and Day is knowledgeable about the behavior of local species.
This past winter, he said, cougars have been less problematic in the Methow Valley than some years, probably because deer stayed at higher elevations for a longer time.
He has had to shoot three cougars that were involved in killing pets or livestock. Another was shot by a homeowner after the cougar killed chickens and a cat, and then growled at the man and refused to leave a barn on the property.
Three of the cougars were undernourished, and one was almost starving, which is often the case when cougars resort to attacking domestic animals, he said.
But one of the cougars was a “healthy beautiful male in the peak of condition and prime of life,” Day said.
Hounds were being used to track the cougar after it ate a goat about 6 miles up the West Chewuch Road. One of the hounds pursued the cougar across the river and the cougar took shelter under the deck of a house, Day said.
When Day and the hound handler showed up, one of the dogs slipped out of its collar and ran under the deck at the cougar.
“Cougars can count, but they can only count to two. When they count one dog, they know they can eat it,” Day said. To save the dog, Day shot the cougar.
“Usually, hound hunting is fairly clean and efficient. You can tree it, dart it and collar it. Rarely is there ever a fight,” Day said.
It’s regrettable to have to euthanize a healthy adult male cougar, because those animals hold large territories and keep out younger, weaker cougars — the kind more likely to cause problems, Day said.
Despite periodic run-ins with wildlife, Methow Valley residents tend to be fairly accepting of the animals they live among, Day said.
“It’s got a reputation, and the reputation is well earned, for understanding when it comes to wildlife interactions,” he said. “When there’s a cougar in the neighborhood, it’s not torches and pitchforks.”