Most hunters, and nonhunters for that matter, are shocked, surprised and maybe a little bewildered when they learn that just 35 game wardens safeguard North Dakota’s vast hunting and fishing resources across the state.
Certainly, no one has led me to believe those warden numbers are too high. Just think of the geographic expanse mixed in with topography from the Badlands and Turtle Mountains, to the hills of the coteau and the flats of the drift prairie. There’s plenty of nooks and crannies to cover.
It underscores the importance of hunters, anglers and all citizens helping game wardens through the Report All Poachers program, a cooperative effort between the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, North Dakota Game and Fish and State Radio.
The program got its start in 1983 and provides an opportunity for people to report a game and fish violation, remain anonymous if they wish, and then receive a monetary reward upon a conviction based upon the information provided.
Drew Johnson, department district game warden, explains: “There's a lot of ground for us to cover. It's around two counties per warden and it's a great tool because it allows us to address more violations that are occurring out in the field. The public is a huge help in getting those calls in to State Radio, and then they're getting that dispatched to the wardens that are on the ground.”
Johnson stressed how time is of the essence.
“Make the phone call right away to State Radio at 701-328-9921,” he said. “They'll get that phone call to the nearest game warden that's on the ground.”
Wardens want to know some basic elements, Johnson said.
“The nature of the offense, the location it occurred, and then get as many details as you can about what happened and who's involved,” he said. “We want to know about the vehicle, make, model, ideally a license plate. Then the violator -- get as much as you can about him or her, such as what they're wearing, height, age, if you're able to hair color, facial hair, whatever you can get that's going to help us.”
While many hunters and anglers want to see violators stopped, Johnson advises to let law enforcement handle the situation and not put yourself in harm's way.
“Never confront the violator. That's a huge safety risk,” he said. “So, never go in and confront the violator. Let us get the information and take care of it.”
Advances in technology have enabled wardens faster access to information and more efficient response, even to the point where wardens are able to get on scene most times before violators gets back to their vehicles. Witnesses can take pictures and pinpoint on a map where they're exactly at.
Johnson said social media also has provided wardens with new tools.
“We're making cases off social media,” he said. “We're following up with pictures that are posted, a lot of reports that are posted. We're watching it really closely.”
While technology has changed rapidly, North Dakota’s small game warden staff continues to rely on the assistance of hunters, anglers and concerned citizens.
Doug Leier is a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.