This was a big one.
I walked into the Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting in Delmont and Rich Palmer, director of the bureau of wildlife protection, stopped me.
“Your timing was just a little bit off,” he said.
He was referring to a story I’d written just a month earlier, about people using public lands to grow marijuana. In an interview for that piece, he’d told me that wildlife conservation officers find such “grows” on the game lands just about every year.
When I asked then, though, he said he didn’t know of an active one at the moment where we could get pictures. So the story ran with photos from past operations.
I was too soon.
At the meeting, Palmer told me the commission had made a drug bust less than two weeks later.
The details of that case have come out. Conservation officer David Allen was driving on a game land in Luzerne County, investigating a baiting case, when he saw a man driving his truck along a remote section of utility line. In the bed of his truck were a 125-gallon water tank, an electric water pump and other items.
Allen cited the man for driving behind a gated road, but — still suspicious — did some investigating. That’s when he came across the man’s marijuana operation.
“It contained 170 plants and was just a week or two from being harvested,” Palmer said.
Allen called police as soon as he found the plants, and they nabbed the grower, Thomas Dalton of Wilkes-Barre, before he got off the game land.
Dalton, 47, is charged with one felony count of manufacturing of a controlled substance, one felony count of possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance, and one misdemeanor count of possession of a controlled substance.
Dalton also has been charged with violating the game and wildlife code by unlawfully traveling by motorized vehicle on state game lands, possessing a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia, using game lands for commercial purpose and additional violations.
The commission did not put a price tag on the drugs. But in the earlier story, David Spakowicz, eastern region director of field operations for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, told me that a single marijuana plant can be worth $1,000, minimum. That would make the game lands grow worth at least $170,000.
“It’s harvest season,” Palmer said. “And timing is everything.”
For journalists, law enforcement officers and would-be drug lords alike, apparently.