North Dakota in the last few years has experienced increases in both average income and population.
On the whole, the state benefited from this growth, but it does come with some costs and challenges in many walks of life, including the Game and Fish Department’s enforcement division.
As the accompanying illustrations show, the workload for game wardens is increasing, and in some areas, this increase has been fairly dramatic. The illustrations also indicate decreases in some locations, but does this mean fewer violations and incidents occurred in those areas than before?
The answer in most cases is “no.” With 28 district game wardens spread across 53 counties, it is necessary to prioritize duties, so not all areas receive equal coverage. It also means that while we continue to work on effectiveness and efficiency, there is a limit to what can be done with the current number of staff and resources.
So, what are some of the challenges and how are we working to meet them?
In the last few years, two new major challenges have emerged. First is aquatic nuisance species. Most of the species of concern are found in out-of-state waters east of North Dakota, which is also from where most of the state’s nonresident hunters and anglers originate. Also, a fair number of our residents in eastern North Dakota travel back and forth to fish and boat in Minnesota and states farther east.
Consequently, while game wardens are on the lookout for ANS statewide, we have dedicated more time and resources in eastern North Dakota with check stations, targeting specific areas at specific times of the year.
In western North Dakota, the challenge is dealing with the rapid population growth, which consists of a significant number of short-term workers who are not permanent residents.
And then there is just meeting the “normal” workload, which includes providing a game warden presence in the field across the state. The average workload, of course, has increased over the years, with more and expanded seasons encouraging more outdoors participation over longer periods of time.
Enforcement of game-and-fish-related laws is our primary duty, but as a part of the law enforcement community, Game and Fish wardens receive and give assistance to other law officers within the state, especially when assistance is related to public safety.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department wardens patrol the Missouri River, which is heavily used by pleasure boaters and anglers during open water months.
This has always been the way of doing business, with officers helping each other when summoned, regardless of agency or department, especially in areas away from major population centers where law enforcement resources are limited.
Over the years, Game and Fish Department wardens have assisted in murder investigations, search and rescue operations, escaped-criminal searches, traffic control and everything in between.
So what is Game and Fish doing to meet these challenges?
- Recognize the issues game wardens face in the field on a daily basis, and solicit their ideas.
- Prioritize allocation of resources afforded the Department’s enforcement division.
- Work with states attorneys and judges to create an atmosphere of deterrence. No matter how much effort game wardens put into a case, how strong the case is, the states attorney is the linchpin between the officer and court. While sentences should be appropriate, they also need to have a deterrent effect.
- Provide Game and Fish administration with a realistic assessment of enforcement division needs and abilities to determine funding and manpower.
- Work with the public.
The bottom line is that we will continue to do the best we can with the resources we are given for North Dakota hunters and anglers and public in general.
Each year the North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society, an organization of professionals in the wildlife field, gives an award for the top enforcement case of the year. The award honors Chuck Pulver, a chapter member and North Dakota Game and Fish Department warden who died of a heart attack while on duty in 1995.
The following is the top case of the year.
On February 23, 2013, Game and Fish Department warden Jerad Bluem requested aerial assistance from the warden pilot to check out the Horsehead Lake area in Kidder County. The pilot radioed Bluem that snowmobile tracks and a dead coyote had been located on the frozen lake. The tracks, confirmed from the plane, led to an abandoned farm where two snowmobiles were parked.
Bluem, with the assistance of game warden Jackie Lundstrom, located the snowmobiles, collected serial numbers and photographed the machines. The wardens tried to locate the dead coyote, but gave up the search when it got dark.
Bluem returned the next day with game warden Erik Schmidt. The officers once again followed the tracks and located the coyote, which appeared to have been run over by a snowmobile. The track pattern at the scene matched one of the two snowmobiles found the night before parked in the abandoned farmyard.
X-rays of the coyote showed that the animal appeared to have a broken bone in an upper leg. No bullets or bullet fragments were found in the coyote.
The investigation further showed that while the snowmobile in question was registered in Wyoming, it came back to an individual from Bismarck. Bluem learned that the snowmobile’s owner was at the abandoned property with his son and girlfriend the weekend the coyote was killed. Bluem interviewed all three individuals and confirmed that the owner had chased and ran over the coyote on Horsehead Lake, killing it.
The suspect was charged with harassing a furbearer with a motor vehicle; illegal possession and taking of a furbearer; use of a motor vehicle in a restricted area (for driving across state school lands); and failure to register a snowmobile. The suspect plead guilty and paid fines/fees of $1,050, spent five days in jail and forfeited the snowmobile used to kill the coyote.
Game and Fish Department wardens participated in drownproofing and water rescue training earlier this year at the BSC Aquatic and Wellness Center in Bismarck.
|Failure to accompany/transport other’s game||4|
|Failure to wear florescent orange||5|
|Killing wrong species or sex||3|
|Hunting in closed season||5|
|Shining (using artificial light)||1|
|Other big game violations||5|
|Using gun able to hold more than 3 shells||86|
|Hunting in closed season||7|
|Failure to leave identification or sex of game||24|
|Killing wrong sex or species||6|
|Failure to accompany/transport other’s game||12|
|Nontoxic shot violation||5|
|Failure to HIP register||1|
|Failure to carry federal waterfowl stamp||11|
|Other small game violations||72|
|Use of unlicensed or unnumbered boat||52|
|Failure to display boat registration||10|
|Operating without lights at night||30|
|Inadequate number of PFDs||144|
|Water skiing violations||43|
|Reckless or negligent operation||2|
|Operating vessel under infl uence/intoxicated||12|
|Other boating violations||71|
|Fishing with excessive lines||46|
|Fishing in closed/restricted area||4|
|Failure to attend lines||12|
|No identifi cation on fish house||11|
|Failure to remove fish house||9|
|Other fishing violations||58|
|Shining (using artificial light)||7|
|Harassing furbearers with motor vehicle||7|
|Hunting/trapping in closed season||4|
|Other furbearer violations||13|
|Use of motor vehicle off established trail||2|
|Use of motor vehicle in restricted area||31|
|Harassing wildlife with motor vehicle||2|
|Hunting on posted land without permission||34|
|Hunting before/after legal hours||19|
|Aid in concealment of unlawful game||6|
|Hunting in wrong unit/closed area||12|
|Loaded firearm in motor vehicle||61|
|Discharge of firearm within/on motor vehicle||5|
|440 yard violation||12|
|Other general violations||12|
|Failure to sign/affi x stamp||20|
|Hunting/fishing/trapping without proper license||305|
|Failure to carry license on person||304|
|Misrepresentation on license or application||19|
|Other licensing violations||14|
|WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS/REFUGE|
|Failure to obey posted regulations||46|
|Tree stand violations||3|
|Possession of glass beverage containers||53|
|Baiting on WMA||1|
|Possession/discharge of fireworks||7|
|Prohibited uses of motor vehicles||37|
|Other WMA/refuge violations||8|
|Possession of controlled substance||11|
|Possession of drug paraphernalia||14|
|Minor in possession||39|