Maine Game Wardens Busy This Summer
The crowd at the July 4th parade gets out of hand in North Anson; three Maine game wardens are among the law enforcement officers who respond.
A Prentis man allegedly sets a fire marshal’s car on fire; game wardens answer the call.
A Rockland man suspected of assault escapes in a kayak; sheriff deputies seek assistance from game wardens who are already on the lake policing the Concert on the Cobbossee.
An elderly woman wanders off from a retirement community in Hamden; game wardens arrive with a couple of dogs and a boat to search the nearby river.
A Boothbay woman chases her dog into the woods and gets lost; game wardens find her.
The only thing that ties these incidents together is that Maine sportsmen paid for the services provided. It continues to frustrate – and even anger – many of us that the legislature and governor continue to let this happen, rather than provide public funding to the beleaguered and terribly underfunded Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
We’re proud of the services provided by our game wardens. We’d just like you to help pay for those services.
The department publishes an informative weekly newsletter that often includes a rundown of warden activities for the previous week. Last week’s newsletter included this listing from Andover: “an exhaustive five-day search for two missing swimmers in Lower Richardson Lake in Oxford County; a search and recovery by the Maine Warden Service Dive Team on the 5th day; deaths ruled accidental drowning.”
Because of limited funding, the weekly mileage and time for each warden is limited. A five-day search takes a lot of wardens out of the fields and forests and away from the rivers and lakes for an extended period because they’ve exhausted their mileage and time allotments.
The Warden Service has 123 full-time positions. They lost two positions in the new state budget. They lost fourteen warden positions since 1975.
As the department’s weekly newsletter reports this week, “This represents a significant reduction in force from the early 1970s. During that time, Maine’s sportsmen did not have nearly as much opportunity as they do today, such as moose hunting, turkey hunting, and year-round fishing. Add to that snowmobile, watercraft and ATV enforcement as well as search and rescue responsibilities and we are challenged daily to meet the expectations and response the public we serve demands.”
They didn’t mention wild animal complaints, protection of nesting piping plovers, drug busts, murder investigations, and all of the other duties of today’s game warden. In a typical year, the Warden Service conducts about 500 search-and-rescue missions. Quite a few take more than a single day.
I once did a study of the total number of hours worked by wardens from 1975 to 1999, showing a decrease in 50,000 actual man-hours worked. Today enforcement of fish and wildlife laws consumes less than 50 percent of a game warden’s time.
Of the 123 warden positions currently authorized, only 113 are filled. But there is some good news here.
Colonel Joel Wilkinson informed me on August 2 that he’d been authorized to fill seven of those vacant positions, and would be offering jobs that day to what he called “fantastic candidates,” who will be in training until July of 2012.
Ever the optimist, Wilkinson emailed me, “Things look good… I am pleased, enthused and encouraged.”
So you have nothing to fear. Get in trouble outdoors in Maine, and the Maine Warden Service will be there for you – compliments of the sportsmen and sportswomen of our state.