From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
Their history is a storied one. Beginning in 1895 with the appointment of six officers to protect Galveston Bay’s rapidly declining oyster beds from rampant overexploitation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens have been a fixture on Texas’ rural lands and waters for parts of three centuries.
Their law enforcement work is the stuff of legend around Texas’ deer camps, campfires, bait stores, bass boats and bay piers, where hunters and anglers simultaneously praise and sometimes cuss them. Widely respected for their uncanny knack for showing up just as the poachers are firing their shots over a baited dove field, spotlighting deer from a secluded county roadway or pulling up a gillnet filled with ill-begotten fish from a public waterway, game wardens do much to protect our fish and game from those who seek to illegally exploit and profit from those resources.
As anyone who cares about such things will tell you, a strong law enforcement presence is an essential part of any successful fish and wildlife conservation program. That work is also integral to protecting our lands and waters so that all outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy them safely, legally and responsibly. Thankfully, Texas has that in spades with our 532 game wardens, whose jobs require them to spend their time largely afield, largely alone and largely unsung, protecting our lands, waters, fish, wildlife, property and lives.
God bless ’em.
And, as my colleague Mike Cox writes in this issue, the work of our wardens has been anything but static with the passage of time. Constant adaptation, evolution and vigilance are required simply to keep up with the heightened sophistication in technology, techniques and commerce deployed by today’s poachers, polluters and commercial traffickers in illegally acquired fish and wildlife resources.
But it doesn’t stop there. As the “law enforcement off the pavement,” game wardens play an increasingly broader role in a wide variety of law enforcement, water safety, emergency response, disaster relief and public safety measures, all the while retaining their primary focus on conservation. Much of that is by sheer necessity. In the rural settings where most of our game wardens serve, they are oftentimes one of only a handful of officers available to help address the varied law enforcement, public safety and other community-related needs of our state’s residents and property owners.
It is in no small part why our game wardens were among the first responders in West, Hood County and the communities just south of Austin following the devastating explosion, tornados and floods that wreaked havoc on those Central Texas communities. They were there to help keep people and property safe when they needed it most.
It is also why our Law Enforcement Division has recently launched a series of specialized teams ranging from K-9 units and search-and-rescue outfits to dive and marine theft teams. The game wardens who serve on those units receive extensive and specialized training to ensure they are well equipped for whatever challenge awaits them, whether that is rescuing lost hikers deep in the West Texas desert, locating concealed evidence to build a successful case against illegal poachers or recovering boats stolen from their rightful owners.
As you can tell, while our game wardens still proudly and effectively protect the oyster beds in Galveston Bay, they’ve also assumed a few other duties along the way. Texas is better off because of it.
Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.