California Fish and Game hunts for new wardens
California Department of Fish and Game wardens are looking for respect and the funding that comes with it.
On Wednesday, they received some help, when state lawmakers approved $3 million for a recruitment campaign.
Representatives of California’s game wardens say they are handicapped by a staffing shortage, and don’t expect to recruit more with salaries that are uncompetitive with other law enforcement agencies.
As wages have trailed behind other agencies, wardens have been hired away by other departments. The number of new recruits has dwindled.
“California is the third largest state in the nation, and dead last in per-capita game wardens,” said game warden Jake Bushey at a state Fish and Game Commission meeting held June 7 in Truckee.
Bushey said the state’s inadequate staffing endangers the state’s natural resources by not providing necessary protection and enforcement.
“If we are at full force we have about 215 wardens,” Bushey said. “It would take 215 wardens to protect the black bear alone.”
Jerry Karnow, a legislative liaison for the California Fish and Game Wardens Association and a warden himself, said about 120 of the state’s roughly 215 active wardens are scheduled to retire within a year.
“Florida has 700 for a smaller state, and Texas has about 500,” Karnow said.
Finding replacements for those who are retiring is another challenge, Karnow said, with the department struggling to bring in just 15 more recruits.
“In the past we would have 3,000 to 4,000 applications for the academy; now it’s down to about 400 due to competitive wages,” Karnow said.
He said a warden out of the academy makes about $40,000 a year,
pared to the $56,000 annual salary for California Highway Patrol troopers for example, according to http://www.chp.ca.gov.
The shortage of game wardens is a problem throughout the state and has been an issue since late 2001, when the budget crisis took hold and a hiring freeze was set in place, Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano said in an interview.
“There is no doubt with those kinds of numbers we’re not able to do the enforcement work we want to do,” he said.
Wednesday the state agreed to $3 million to assist in establishing the Department of Fish and Game’s own academy (previously shared with Calfire), to recruit and retain wardens, and to help pay for overtime, Karnow said.
But the game warden said he is skeptical the added funds will rectify the problem.
At the Fish and Game Commission meeting in Truckee June 7, Bushey and Karnow described some of the activities California wardens are involved in.
Karnow said wardens are responsible not only for protecting natural resources, but for public safety.
“We’ve found out game wardens have been involved in three terrorist cell activities with the FBI because of the areas we patrol,” Karnow told the commission.
He also said wardens enforce hunting and fishing regulations, and are often first responders to pollution issues such as water contamination.
Bushey said talks are under way about shutting down the take of certain species until enough game wardens can properly manage hunting and fishing.
“The fish and wildlife resources rely on wardens to be their voice, and in my opinion the wildlife in California deserves a hell of a lot better than this,” Bushey told the commission.
” The Union’s Laura Brown contributed to this report
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