States all across the country are now facing Game Warden shortages. Many factors are contributing to the lack of incoming game wardens. Shrinking budgets, unqualified applicants, low wages, and living in rural locations have all contributed to the decline in conservation officers. During the 2019 hiring process, Georgia was only able to hire ten officers out of an applicant pool of three hundred and fifty. Likewise, Wisconsin was only able to hire twelve game wardens out of four hundred applicants. Conservation officers play a crucial part in protecting wildlife and the environment. During their patrols, they check for illegal poaching, overfishing, and illegal dumping. Likewise, conservation officers also help other branches of law enforcement. In California game wardens are usually the first to find and report illegal drug grow sites.
“People who want to cheat resources know which [ranger] stations are vacant, and know that the odds of seeing a warden in the field are rare because regular patrols aren’t happening.” “It’s not just fish and game violations. if no one is visiting sensitive sites…there are a lot of things that get overlooked that could be spotted by [a game warden] patrolling the area.” explains Larry Bonde, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a group of elected delegates who advise the state department of natural resources.
COVID-19 Increases Challenges
The COVID-19 Pandemic has also created challenges for conservation officers. Stay-at-home orders have led to more people enjoying the outdoors. Many states have seen large increases in fishing license purchases. With more people in the outdoors and fewer game wardens, enforcement of wildlife laws becomes difficult. In some states, illegal overfishing has already been reported. Likewise, extra people in the outdoors has also damaged trail systems, and leftover litter is damaging the environment.
“[Game wardens] work really hard to fill in the gaps to protect natural resources.” he says. “In areas with less officer presence or where officers are spread thin to cover vacant districts. it has the potential to leave investigations incomplete or not responded to or followed up on as thoroughly as they would have been if you had one officer assigned to the area.” Rick Langley, wildlife program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department said.
Is your state facing game warden shortages? How do you think they should try and get more officers? Have you seen more people in the woods during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments.