Game wardens trapped by state budget |

Game wardens trapped by state budget

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun file photoBill Miller, a California Department of Fish and Game warden, uses binoculars to observe a fisherman on the Little Truckee River.

With the California state budget finally in and signed, the California Department of Fish and Game wardens are still left wanting.

Representatives of California’s wardens say the department is understaffed, severely limiting their ability to protect the state’s natural resources.

Heading into the state budget process, game wardens were hopeful that additional funding would bring pay to a competitive level with other law enforcement agencies.

But a legislative proposal to boost salaries fell victim in the final spending blueprint.

“The new budget did nothing to solve our recruiting and retention problem,” said Jerry Karnow Jr., Nevada County warden and legislative liaison for the California Fish and Game Warden’s Association. “The funding we received does nothing to solve the problem at all.”

Steve Martarano, supervising information officer for the Department of Fish and Game, said the budget earmarked $1.5 million for the department, specifically to pay for warden overtime hours.

While the state Legislature had originally set aside $3 million for Fish and Game, Karnow said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the figure in half.

“The $1.5 million is only to be spent on working overtime; some of that $3 million would have gone to funding the transition of our academy from the one we share with [the California Depart-ment of Forestry],” Karnow said. “Now that has to come out of the existing Fish and Game budget.”

While several new wardens have graduated from the academy, he said, the department has lost several others to higher-paying employers elsewhere.

He said a warden out of the academy makes about $40,000 a year, compared to the $56,000 annual salary for California Highway Patrol troopers for example, according to

California employs about 200 game wardens to patrol an area covering nearly 160,000 square miles.

In a June presentation to the Department of Fish and Game board meeting in Truckee, Karnow said Florida has 700 wardens and Texas about 500.

“California is the third-largest state in the nation, and dead last in per-capita game wardens,” said game warden Jake Bushey at the same meeting.

Now wardens will have to wait for relief and try again with the 2008-09 state budget, Karnow said.

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