LATE IN JULY, THE TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT graduated 23 new game wardens and seven state-park police into outdoor law enforcement. Those men and women are sorely needed—as are a couple hundred more if the state could afford them.
Texas’s natural resources continue to be pressured on all fronts. As we re-enter hunting seasons this time of year, we’ll be reminded from any blind or stand that other hunters are nearby—often uncomfortably so.
Not to age myself, but I recall cursing the weekdays during waterfowl season because there weren’t enough hunters on that expansive prairie west of Houston to keep the birds stirred. If a roost of geese lifted off the ground and went south instead of aiming its thousands where you had set your spread, it was going to be a long, quiet morning.
The same situation arose on the lakes and bays (but the results were better). Fewer fishermen Monday through Friday nearly always meant better fishing for those of us who could be on the water those days. Weekends, we joked, were for amateurs.
Today, anyone with enough money and the time to read an owner’s manual can outfit himself or herself with a tremendous amount of technology. That technology can replace 10 or 15 years of experience.
Outdoor enthusiasts are exponentially better, in general, at finding sportfish and game animals—catching or killing them, and putting small, personal dents in those resources.
The trouble with all that technology, with any technology, is that it’s also available to the bad guys. Poachers use GPS, fishfinders, night vision and other “cool” equipment as much or more than do we. Only they use it to steal the fish and game to which we only have access by license.
Hats off to those 23 new members of the outdoor law-enforcement team in Texas. I sure hope 23 (or 123) are sitting in those same classrooms and studying their way to graduation soon.
I don’t know exactly how many wardens Texas employed 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m confident it was considerably fewer than are out there now. If a fading memory serves, my friends and I seemed somehow to make contact with enforcement personnel more often than in recent years.
We welcomed game wardens into our goose spreads and deer camps. We knew them, and they knew us. Importantly, they knew we checked our hunters’ paperwork during breakfast.
Now, after giving it considerable thought, I can’t remember the last time I was asked for a license or to produce the fish I’d caught or birds I’d shot.
Despite a lack of game wardens and park police, and despite nasty, bad apples still in the outdoor barrel, this state somehow still manages to provide excellent fishing to an increasingly large number of increasingly skilled anglers.
The plus side to plentiful resources is swelling numbers of hunters and fishermen who will fund the next generation of wardens. That, and the comforting fact that most of us—the overwhelming majority of us—follow the rules and laws.
We know that taking too much, if the notion someday were to infect a majority of outdoor enthusiasts, would begin the end of fish and wildlife, as we know them.
We (should) know also that watching quietly while other people break the law is nearly as bad as doing so ourselves. That’s where you, I and Operation Game Thief (OGT) come together.
OGT—the number is on licenses and online, for millennials’ fastest access—is a direct connection between sportsmen and law enforcement. Your call is answered by an operator, probably in Austin, and the information you provide about a perceived violation is forwarded immediately to the nearest available game warden.
You can remain anonymous, as do most callers, or you can name yourself and request a cash reward should your tip lead to arrest and conviction. There probably are restrictions on how and why you can put hands on that money. I don’t know much about that part; I call OGT because it’s the right thing to do, and I’ve called more than once.
On the radio, I’ve had a few people ask about the odds that a warden will get the tip and arrive in time to nab the offender. The odds are slim, to be honest, because these men and women are spread incredibly thin. To worsen the situation, unless I misunderstood one man’s explanation a while back, wardens aren’t allowed to work overtime.
If we can’t afford more wardens and state park police officers now, we’d better find a way soon. Because what we really can’t afford is to ignore poachers and what they steal from our wildlife and fisheries resources. Until more badges are on the water and in the woods, keep that OGT number handy. Add it to your contacts list. And use it.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]