The challenges of the past year have had an impact on all jobs, and North Dakota game wardens were no different.
In a similar way to how virtual conferences and online shopping were suddenly more popular than ever because of the reduced contact and concentration, so, too, was time outdoors. Fresh air and wide-open spaces replaced indoor concerts and sporting events in many cases.
The outdoors was open, and more hunters and anglers took to the fields and waters. About the only outdoor activity canceled was the spring paddlefish snagging season. (Note: Rest assured, this year's snagging season, barring unforeseen circumstances, is set to open Saturday, May 1.)
Across the board, including casual bird watching, a visit to a park and hikes for nonconsumptive activities, the outdoor recreation industry was not just surviving but thriving.
Some hunters and anglers maybe had not participated in years, while others had never hunted pheasants or caught a pike. No matter the reason, people flocked to the outdoors, and the job of game wardens to enforce game and fish rules and regulations was more important than ever. Doing their duty while keeping others safe also created new challenges for performing their jobs with respect of COVID-19 precautions.
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Scott Winkelman, Game and Fish Department enforcement division chief, relates that they met the challenges without missing a beat: “From dealing with daily COVID-19 challenges, increased numbers of hunters and anglers and changes in technology, game wardens continued to do what they always do without pause, providing exceptional service to North Dakota,” he said.
Department game wardens are also husbands, wives and parents and they faced their own challenges while doing their jobs and balancing off-hour needs.
“The men and women who choose to sacrifice their weekends, holidays, season openers and family time to safeguard North Dakota’s natural resources and ensure the safety of those who recreate outdoors certainly deserve a huge thank you,” Winkelman said.
Along the way, the enforcement division also implemented new computer programs to track their activity.
“This new system was built specifically for the needs of the enforcement division and is providing new and interesting data that will assist in developing and improving enforcement operations,” Winkelman said. ”While we have always been able to report the number of citations issued in a year, that number pales in comparison to the number of people contacted by a game warden where no citation was issued. These license checks, bag inspections, boating safety inspections, public safety calls, wildlife issues, permits, the list goes on, are as important as the number of citations and are now tracked.”
Between Sept. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, for example, game wardens made 11,937 contacts and wrote 1,061 citations. This information shows more accurately the impact game wardens have instead of looking at citation numbers alone.
With this information now readily available, the Enforcement Division will continue to develop and implement enforcement strategies and operations for the benefit of North Dakota’s wildlife and those who enjoy the outdoors.
Incidents 2020 – Top counties
(An incident is defined as any situation that requires a response from a game warden. It does not have to be a crime. The situation could be, for example, a stranded angler.)
Citations 2020 – Top counties
Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at email@example.com.