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Long Hours, Low Pay and Guns Fired in Anger
Barbara Heilman
October 15, 1962
The nation's game wardens, protectors of our remaining wildlife heritage, are dedicated men who love the land and the open air and persistently do their jobs in spite of
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October 15, 1962

Long Hours, Low Pay And Guns Fired In Anger

The nation's game wardens, protectors of our remaining wildlife heritage, are dedicated men who love the land and the open air and persistently do their jobs in spite of

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"Got to have a permit from Harris-burg," Shabbick told him.

"It's only a small crick—there's no fish in it or anything," the man said. "It's not much of a change."

"Yes, but you still need a permit from Harrisburg," Shabbick said, and promised to check it.

And so on, up the Susquehanna, in the warm sun. The wardens checked a dead eel's length and were pleased. "All the eels in here are ones we planted as elvers," Fleeger said. "Nice to see them establishing themselves." Along the shore a live-bait box, tethered to a stake, rose and fell with the small waves. Shabbick went to check it. There is a limit on live bait in Pennsylvania. "Some people," Fleeger says, "take more hellgrammites than they would ever need to catch the limit of six bass. And at the end of the day they throw them away, dead. I've always felt that you shouldn't waste anything of nature's."

Shabbick and Fleeger would leave the river about 7 and have supper, after which they would debate going back out to check on bait hunters. A quiet day: long but not longer than usual, strenuous but not as strenuous as some.

Hunters and fishermen are inclined to think of wardens like Shabbick and Fleeger vaguely and negatively, as figures they don't want to see rising out of the bushes. Few of them know or care just what wardens do, so long as they don't do it to them, and in this they are making a mistake. It is the hunters and fishermen who pay our wardens, and it should please them to know how much they are getting for their money. In almost all states, wardens' salaries derive solely from license fees—there is no state appropriation and fines sometimes are channeled as far away from the wardens as the local school fund. It works out to a salary of some $3,000 to $5,000 a year, and for this the sportsmen get a man who works incalculably hard, who is diplomat, conservationist, legal expert, public relations man and, more than occasionally, sunburned Samaritan.

A warden's average day is conservatively estimated to be 12 hours long. It is probably in fact longer, but it would be so difficult to calculate that wardens prefer to go to bed rather than figure it out. The State of Connecticut did arrive at a figure of 48 days of unpaid overtime per man in 1960—probably low. Vermont tells its prospective wardens flatly that "a warden is paid the standard weekly rate, with no additional compensation for required overtime"—which sounds tough, but Chief Conservation Officer William Coffin of New Jersey observes, "We never have to pound a man to go out and do a day's work. We have to pound at him to take some time off." The other states agree.

On duty the warden, of course, enforces the law: 4,500 wardens over 3,615,211 square miles of country and 88,633 miles of shoreline. And in these 3,615,211 square miles are men so bent on evading the law that they have hidden hellgrammites, crawly and pinchered, under their hats, and deer in their beds. The work requires a sound knowledge of the law. As one warden has put it, "It's a specialized form of enforcement—we deal in technicalities. When you arrest a man you're sticking your neck out unless you know exactly what you're arresting him for. False arrest, malicious persecution and all the rest of it—we don't want any of that." Not getting any of it involves a thorough knowledge of court procedure and legal subtleties; game wardens today may be found .in the Treasury School in Washington, taking a condensed course in the Rules of Evidence.

And law enforcement is hardly half of it. A warden is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the service of hunters with questions, drunks with arguments to be settled at 3 a.m., householders with squirrels in the attic or skunks under the porch. "You get a phone call; a squirrel is up a telephone pole or a cat is on a third-story ledge," says Anthony Mazza of Manhattan, "and people want you down there forthwith. They can't understand if you don't hurry down, or that the squirrel can climb a lot better than you can." A warden is available for hurricanes, tornadoes, lost children, escaped murderers and turtles held in unlawful captivity; he is around for getting people down off mountains, up from the bottoms of rivers and out of blizzards. He conducts conservation classes, speaks at boy scout meetings, answers questions at outdoor shows, wildlife exhibits and sportsmen's clubs. Then he has hours to put in doing detailed reports and preparing his cases, to see them through in court—work made by the work he has done.

It is the wardens who know the size of their fish-and-game populations and the conditions that support and threaten them—the amount of food and cover, the degree of pollution in the rivers, the strength of the predator groups. It is the game warden who knows how many elk there are and how many deer how many quail and how they are fixed for cover and for food: grit, ragweed seeds, sedge, mast. It is the warden who knows just how many fish are appearing belly up in the polluted rivers. He knows which waters need stocking and helps to stock them. He knows where deer populations are heavy and moves the deer to where they are light. In Florida he ropes and transports alligators, and in Massachusetts he carts hard-shell clams from polluted to clean waters, saving not just clams but the lives of people who would buy from bootleggers tempted to work the productive beds. In Manhattan he prowls Madison Avenue shops for hats bearing a breast feather of a protected duck and shows up in restaurant kitchens looking for brook trout lacking the tag that shows they were legitimately raised and sold.

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