By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Wyoming could get roughly half of the new game wardens it needs, and low salaries could be partly to blame, officials said.
A total of 121 applicants for roughly a dozen open positions might initially seem like plenty. However, that will probably still leave the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s recruitment efforts short of its goals, Rick King told Cowboy State Daily. He’s the agency’s chief game warden.
“I anticipate about 30-40 (of the initial 121 applicants) will be asked to participate in the entire process, but history has shown we will be lucky to make job offers to about five or six,” King said.
The latest game warden applicant pool was about half of what it would have been 10 years ago, Game and Fish director Brian Nesvik recently told the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.
That highlights a steady downward trend and recruitment and retainment numbers for most departments in the agency, he said. Wildlife biologists are the exception – Game and Fish has had good retention among them.
Nesvik told the committee that salary hikes would probably help recruitment and retention throughout the department.
Specific to game wardens, King agreed that a salary hike could help, adding that recruitment problems are hardly unique to Game and Fish.
“I believe salary is one issue, he said. Nearly all law enforcement agencies are having a hard time recruiting for positions right now. Well-qualified applicants can shop around for higher salary offers,” King said.
“Current starting salary for entry level game warden is $4,200 per month with standard state benefits and retirement under the Warden, DCI, and Highway Patrol system,” he added.
Wyoming isn’t the only state struggling to fill its warden rosters. The Game Warden.org website highlighted a shortage of wardens in Maine.
News agencies also reported shortages in Georgia, Arizona, Kansas and numerous other states, raising concern over whether that could lead to more wildlife crimes slipping through the cracks.
Wyoming just closed one of its largest poaching cases ever. A spokesman for the Boone & Crocket Club, a prestigious ethical hunting and wildlife conservation group, surmised that many poaching cases go undetected.
New game wardens must meet demanding qualifications, and then go though intensive training, King said.
“The Minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree with at least 20 hours of wildlife related coursework,” he said.
The screening process for applicants includes a panel interview, psychological evaluation, polygraph, physical fitness assessment and background check, King said.
Once hired, warden recruits must attend basic training at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. Then comes a series of in-house training sessions before new wardens are assigned to their regions and districts. The process takes about a year, King said.
Strategy: Inspire Youth
In an effort to boost the number of qualified applicants, Game and Fish has assigned three veteran game wardens to recruit new candidates, King said. They will also offer continued training and retainment coaching to current wardens.
“Members of this new work unit will begin a more focused and formal recruiting effort at the high school level within the state and across colleges and universities nationwide,” King said. “We do not view recruitment as a short-term challenge and know that we need to increase the interest in the job to help fill current and future vacancies.”