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Game and Fish report highlights recruitment and retention challenges

Game Warden Jordan Winter spends a lot of time in the backcountry in the saddle as part of his patrols in the Powell area.

By Mark Davis
Powell Tribune
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — Wyoming game wardens patrolled more than 600,000 miles in 2022, according to the annual Wyoming Game and Fish Department Law Enforcement Report, but the report also reveals the department had fewer wardens making rounds due to problems recruiting and retaining employees, resulting in fewer violations being discovered. 

“Our report reveals a steep drop in the number of documented wildlife, fishing and watercraft violations from previous years,” said Chief Game Warden Rick King. “This should not be interpreted as an increase in compliance with state laws and regulations. Rather, it should serve as a stark reminder of our ongoing recruitment and retention challenges facing most agencies.” 

The department had a law enforcement position vacancy rate of nearly 20% and during the fall hunting season, several senior game warden districts were vacant. 

“Your Wyoming game wardens are working hard to serve you and conserve wildlife, but they are stretched thin,” King said. 

According to the report, there were 2,838 law enforcement actions statewide in 2022, including one of the largest poaching cases in Wyoming history brought to a close. 

Tips from the public, through either the Stop Poaching Hotline, text tip line or the Game and Fish website, resulted in 323 submissions — a 31% increase from the previous year. Investigations from the Stop Poaching program led to 34 citations and 14 warnings issued. 

“The public’s eyes in the field and reports of suspicious activity are critical to our mission,” King said. “Now more than ever, your eyes in the field and reports of suspicious activity are needed.” 

In the Cody Region, 12 law enforcement officers, including nine district game wardens, one access coordinator, one game warden supervisor, and one regional wildlife supervisor, patrol an area from the Montana state line south to Boysen Reservoir and from Yellowstone National Park east to the west slope of the Bighorn Mountains. 

The region includes the North Cody, South Cody, Powell, Lovell, Meeteetse, Greybull, Ten Sleep, Thermopolis and Worland game warden districts. 

Cody Region law enforcement officers documented 283 violations in 2022, a decrease of nine violations from 2021, putting in nearly 6,300 hours and traveling almost 96,000 miles. 

Officers issued 94 citations, 184 warnings and investigated five cases in which a suspect was never identified. The most common citations issued were for hunting on private property without permission, failing to properly tag big or trophy game animals and fishing without a license. 

During late October and early November, a task force was put together using three wardens from other parts of the state to patrol the area of the lower South Fork of the Shoshone River. 

This area has seen an increase in trespassing over the past several years, primarily from nonresident deer hunters hunting large migratory buck mule deer and shooting them on private property without permission. 

Weather conditions were very mild this year, and not many mule deer had migrated to lower elevations while the task force was in place. Wardens still made some great contacts with hunters and issued two citations to hunters for failing to stop at an established check station. 

Another hunter was cited for shooting from a public road, failing to wear fluorescent orange and failing to properly tag his deer. 

Hunters were surprised to be checked by several different wardens over several days in the area. The additional law enforcement effort and presence certainly gained the attention of many hunters, the report said. 

One of the largest poaching cases in Wyoming history, which included the illegal killing of bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, mule deer and other species, as well as fraudulent applications for resident licenses, was closed due to the collaborative efforts of multiple state and federal law enforcement partners, the report highlighted. 

The case began in 2015 when a Gillette game warden received a request from a hunter for an interstate game tag to accompany a head as it was shipped out of state for taxidermy work. 

“Intuition prompted the game warden to check some facts and dig deeper into the request. The result of this hunch, combined with a heavy dose of hard work and persistence, uncovered more than 100 wildlife violations committed by three individuals who plundered Wyoming’s wildlife over the course of a decade,” King wrote in his introduction to the report. 

“This case highlights the skills and abilities of our Wyoming game wardens and their incredible ability to team up with others in the protection of wildlife resources,” King said. 

The top violations for the 2022 year included fishing without a license, trespassing on private land, failing to stop at a watercraft check station and failing to tag a big game animal. 

And King is encouraged for future law enforcement actions due to the recent hiring of eight prospective game wardens.

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