Thin Green Line dwindling | SierraSun.com

Thin Green Line dwindling

Bruce Ajari

California Department of Fish and Game wardens, also referred to as the “Thin Green Line,” protect the state’s 379,000 square miles of beautiful but fragile lands. Results for the latest applications of people seeking to become Fish and Game wardens are very disheartening.

Only 244 applications were filed to take a written test to fill 55 vacancies. By comparison, from 1975 to 1978, 3,000 applicants applied for just 24 available warden positions.

In Northern California, 144 applicants applied to be Fish and Game Wardens, but only 94 actually showed up for an interview. Five of the candidates had been previously disqualified. Of the 89 remaining, only between 1 and 3 percent will be hired.

The Fish and Game Department has a budget for 352 wardens, yet only 280 are actually on duty, and the number of on-the-beat wardens is at 192. It does not take rocket science to figure out that declining warden resources are stretched pretty thin these days.

So what is happening to cause such a radical shift in the numbers?

The biggest single factor is the lack of recognition that the members of this force are actually sworn peace officers. As such, their jobs should mean that their wages should be on a par with surrounding local government agencies as well as their state counterpart, the California Highway Patrol.

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The reality is that they are woefully under compensated compared to their local law enforcement counterparts, even though their education, training, job responsibilities and the risks that they take daily dictate a similar salary.

According to CAUSE, a statewide law enforcement association, “Fish and Game Wardens are sworn peace officers who make arrests, use firearms, do under-cover investigations, control crowds, and perform the same functions as their highly trained colleagues in police and sheriff departments. They also are a vital component in the nation’s homeland security, patrolling as far as 200 miles off the coast of California, interdicting drug running and searching for criminals and terrorists. Because of the bad pay and antiquated overtime rules, we estimate that within a few years, every new applicant accepted will go on to work for another agency. What will it take for policymakers to act?”

At a recent meeting of the Tahoe Truckee Flyfishers, new State Fish and Game Commissioner Cindy Gustafson, of Tahoe City, requested those in attendance to write their legislators regarding the issue of equity in wardens’ salaries with other law enforcement jurisdictions. The trend of losing wardens to other jurisdictions and not be able to recruit an adequate pool of candidates needs to be reversed. The only way to do so is through the legislature.

For more information, you may want to check out the CAUSE Web site at http://www.cause7.com/index1.asp. At this site you can view a document that the California Fish and Game Wardens Association produced to show the disparity between wardens and other officers. It is certainly an eye opener.

If you appreciate the outdoors you will write that letter to your legislature as soon as you finish reading this piece. It is probably one of the most important things that you can ever do.

Bruce Ajari is a Truckee resident and regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.