“…enforce the law without fear or favor”
W.F. Scott -Montana’s first Game Warden
Montana: The Big Sky Country, known for its majestic Rocky Mountain peaks, sweeping wide open prairies and plains, crystal blue lakes, rivers and streams, and, of course, a diverse and unparalleled abundance of fish and wildlife populations - as well as outdoor recreational opportunities that are second to none. An exceptional place to live, work, and recreate.
Montana Game Wardens work tirelessly to protect and preserve Montana’s resources for the benefit and enjoyment of all, now and for generations to come.
Combating fish and wildlife crime across Montana is a year-round priority for Game Wardens, and one at which they excel. Poachers are criminals who kill for the thrill of killing, to lash out at wildlife laws, and, increasingly, for profit. Montana game wardens are seeing and successfully combating an increase in the number of organized operations where several people kill scores of animals, often with fraudulently obtained licenses and permits. Poachers are not down-on-their-luck people trying to feed their families. They are from all walks of life and avocations, and all parts of the country and the world. They kill fish and wildlife any way, any time, and any place they can, sometimes opportunistically and sometimes through very sophisticated means. Despite the dangers, challenges, risks, and hazards of protecting our wild resources, Montana Game Wardens’ commitment and dedication continues, strong and unwavering, in serving and protecting Montana, the last best place.
Arguably one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement is that of a Game Warden. Since 1901, there have been 9 Montana Game Wardens killed in the line of the duty. On average, a Montana Game Warden’s patrol district is nearly 2,000 square miles, and requires the use of 4x4 pickups, ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, lake boats, jet boats, horses and backpacking to patrol that vast landscape in the protection of the state’s wild resources. Wardens work alone, without close backup, in areas with limited communications, and nearly everyone they encounter is armed. Although most field contacts are with law abiding citizens, on occasion those encounters are with violators, felons, probationers, wanted offenders, drug users, sexual and violent offenders, intoxicated persons, and individuals with active misdemeanor and felony warrants for their arrest. Wardens are peace officers and address all these situations and more, while excelling in their commitment to protecting Montana’s outdoor resources.
Detecting and investigating criminal violations of fish, wildlife, and recreation laws and rules is a major component of a warden’s daily routine. Wardens patrol their districts, contacting resource users, detecting violations, and responding to various types of calls for service. The majority of violations that wardens encounter are handled in the field through simple verbal and written warnings as well as the issuance of citations. Simple violations encountered or detected in the field during patrol can often lead to larger investigations requiring the use of search warrants, arrest warrants, and investigative subpoenas, and wardens are skilled at identifying and detecting cases in which there may be further violations.
Montana’s exceptional resources and opportunities sometimes lead to significant, widespread exploitation. The Special Investigations Unit is comprised of a highly trained and elite group of investigators who specialize in large scale, complex, interstate and intrastate investigations into fish and wildlife crime, including investigation of national and international wildlife trafficking rings. The Special Investigations Unit investigates large-scale poaching cases which often involve numerous animals killed over many years by multiple suspects. These cases feature a degree of complexity that rivals or exceeds any other major criminal investigation. Successfully bringing a large investigation all the way through to prosecution takes patience, skill and determination.
As the population of Montana continues to grow, so too does outdoor recreational activity. Game Wardens proactively patrol and respond to a wide variety of activities both on and off FWP’s lands, including snowmobiling, off highway vehicle use, river recreation, camping, boating and a multitude of other outdoor activities.
With 55 state parks and 350 fishing access sites in Montana drawing hundreds of thousands of recreationists every year, Game Wardens are tasked with enforcing applicable state laws, and also Fish and Wildlife Commission rules, Parks Board rules and department rules at all these sites. The popularity of state parks and fishing access sites continues to grow across the state, which leads to additional need for law enforcement presence, response, and investigations. Game Wardens are tasked with responding to this need.
Montana Game Wardens patrol and monitor nearly 70 Wildlife Management Areas and 15 Wildlife Habitat Protection Areas encompassing hundreds of thousands of acres across the state. These pristine areas not only provide critical wildlife habitat, but also provide hunting, fishing, camping and other recreation opportunities for all Montanans to enjoy. These areas are governed by specific public use rules and laws and it’s the job of Montana’s Game Wardens to preserve and protect them for current and future generations of Montanans to enjoy.
Montana Game Wardens are on the front line in the efforts to prevent Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) from being transported into or across Montana. One of the biggest risks to Montana’s natural resources is the ever-increasing threat of non-native invasive species. Aquatic Invasive Species have been detected in some Montana waters, and, if left unchecked have been shown to cause irreversible damage. AIS are often inadvertently introduced into waterbodies by being transported by boaters who have failed to clean, drain, dry or otherwise decontaminate their boats. Wardens are a critical part of the team working to stop the spread of AIS, work during the spring, summer, and fall at AIS boat inspection stations all across the state ensuring boats are inspected for AIS, providing proactive education for boaters about AIS and addressing violations as needed. Wardens investigate violations of AIS management area rules and work cooperatively with department staff, multiple other governmental agencies, counties, and interest groups working collaboratively to help prevent the spread.
Game Wardens are tasked with primary responsibility for enforcing Montana’s boating regulations, and actively patrol Montana’s waterways looking for boating safety violations. Game Wardens attend training on marine accident investigation and investigate all boating accidents ranging from small minor collisions to crashes resulting in serious injury and fatalities. Montana is a proud member state of both the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the Western States Boating Administrators Association (WSBAA) and stays active in the national safe boating dialogue. FWP enforcement’s marine services are part of a partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Safety Program
Game Wardens are peace officers and, like all other law enforcement agencies, assist in responding to a variety of criminal activities and public emergencies. Due to the remote and unique areas wardens patrol, they often find themselves in a position of advantage to respond to those calls and emergencies that occur where other law enforcement and emergency services do not routinely go nor access easily. Game Wardens have been first on scene and have been responsible for providing critical, tactical law enforcement service, lifesaving medical attention, dangerous search and rescue, immediate fire response and much more.
Outfitting, guiding, taxidermy, shooting preserves, game farms and roadside menageries are all commercial operations regulated by FWP. Game Wardens are responsible for conducting inspections and enforcing rules and regulations specific to each type of commercial operation.
The most critical role for a Montana Game Warden is the role they play as members of the communities in which they live. Although their primary duty is law enforcement, Wardens interact with hunters and non-hunters alike, instruct at hunter education classes, attend various public events and give presentations to constituency groups, schools and other organizations. Wardens work closely with various outdoor recreation groups and landowners across the state to secure public access for hunting and recreation opportunities and are often the sole representative of FWP in the community. It’s not unusual for a Warden to spend his or her entire career in one warden district where they have created valuable relationships that are an asset in their work protecting Montana’s resources.