Three Tri-City men are accused of trespassing to collect deer and elk antlers on the Hanford nuclear reservation.
One of the men was a Hanford worker who previously pleaded guilty to charges related to poaching a Hanford elk in 2013.
This time, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers received a tip in early February that people were trespassing on federal land to collect deer and elk antlers the animals shed near the Columbia River.
The nuclear reservation, where plutonium was once produced for the nation’s nuclear weapons program, is closed to the public while decades of work continues to cleanup radioactive contamination and other toxins.
On Feb. 12, a Sunday, a state Fish and Wildlife officer stopped three men as they were putting a boat into the Columbia River at a parking lot in the Ringold area on the Hanford Reach National Monument.
Defendants’ boat made contact with the shore at four separate locations along the Columbia River bank of the restricted Hanford DOE site.
They said they planned “to learn that area of the river,” according to court documents.
They were Daniel Briant Charboneau, 32, of Pasco, Stephen Michael Dearinger Jr., 31, of Kennewick, and Isaac Hampton Case, 38, of Pasco.
Charboneau was a Hanford employee who kept his job after pleading guilty to a charge related to poaching an elk at Hanford in 2013.
All three are charged in Benton County District Court with unlawful collecting of wildlife parts from property belonging to another.
Suspicious that the boaters were hunting for shed antlers, state and federal officers stationed themselves on overlook areas. They used spotting scopes and binoculars to watch for any trespassing onto closed areas of Hanford, according to court documents.
The section of the river is posted both with numerous “No trespassing” signs and also some larger signs saying that landing boats on the south side of the river or islands is not allowed and that trespassers will be prosecuted.
The officers saw a boat stop along the shore of the Columbia River in four restricted Hanford locations and men get out, according to court documents.
The misdemeanor charge of unlawful collecting of wildlife parts from the property of another is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Officers reported that Dearinger trespassed onto DOE property four times, Case trespassed three times and Charboneau trespassed once. Each was seen collecting antlers, according to court documents.
When the men returned to the boat launch, officers found five sets of deer antlers and one elk antler, according to court documents.
Elk and deer antlers can be sold for commercial use, including home decor items or alternative medicines.
The seized antlers were taken back to Hanford to be surveyed for radioactive contamination. None was found.
Hanford includes 580 square miles, including the original security zone, which is now the Hanford Reach National Monument. Wildlife roams the shrub steppe habitat of the nuclear reservation, including about 1,100 elk in the Rattlesnake Hills group.
In the earlier case, Charboneau pleaded guilty to hunting game without a state tag and received a suspended jail sentence.
In February, Charboneau was a safety specialist at Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor, but was no longer employed by the contractor as of March 13.
And Case was fined $3,000 and sentenced to 240 hours of community service in 2009 and had his Department of Fish and Wildlife privileges suspended for a decade for illegally hunting big game in Garfield County, according to a Washington State Patrol background check.
He also had a hunting violation that led to a $500 fine in 2000.
The current charges are misdemeanors. If convicted, the men could get up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, said Andrew Clark, Benton County deputy prosecutor.