Budget woes cutting into warden patrols

Editor

Madison Required game farm fence inspections that must be
completed between now and Dec. 15, on top of the Zone T, gun deer,
and muzzleloader seasons, will strain an already underfunded and
undermanned field warden force, according to DNR Chief Warden Randy
Stark.

Fencing on more than 500 game farms must be inspected beginning
Nov. 1 because of a game farm law change that goes into effect on
Jan. 1, 2004.

“The law changed Nov. 1, so we have a narrow window to get this
done. It couldn’t come at a worse time of year, what with Zone T,
gun, and muzzleloader seasons. It’s going to be tough to keep up,”
Stark said.

Combine that new requirement with a sharp cut in funding, and
Stark said it might mean a reduction in patrol during the gun deer
season.

“We may be forced to patrol less in deer season,” he said.
“Maybe wardens will double up so they drive fewer miles to save
money that way. We will only be able to respond to higher priority
complaints, and we’ll have to move wardens around, and that will
leave some spots open. We’ll try to put the most people in the
right place at the right time based on historical hunting
patterns.”

Without being too specific, Stark said that will mean moving
some southern wardens at certain times of the season.

“There’s a lot of stress out there as wardens try to meet
increasing demands on top of everything else, like CWD,” Stark
said.

Field warden operating budgets are down 20 percent. Going back
to 1993, or 1994, wardens were allocated $10,500 to each field
station, per year, to cover mileage and supplies.

This year, the allocation is $8,700 per field station.

“Back in 1994, we only paid 27 cents per mile to drive our
trucks. Now, with inflation, we pay 32 cents per mile. First, we’re
down in raw dollars, then factoring in inflation, we’re operating
on 40-percent less than we were 10 years ago,” Stark said.

That doesn’t even touch the cuts in manpower.

“When we get cuts, we don’t have a lot of places to cut,” Stark
said. “We either cut people, operations, or both. In the current
budget, we cut six positions and didn’t fill 14 vacancies. We lost
29,000 hours in one year with the 14 vacancies. We cut the six
positions; that’s another 12,480 hours. That’s 41,600 hours of work
that was on the landscape last year, but not this year. Couple that
with a 20-percent reduction in ability to drive the trucks, and you
can see our response capacity is significantly reduced.

“The bad news is it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “We
don’t have a recruit class in the hopper. We could begin mitigating
some of the lost hours if we had a recruit class under way, but it
will be into 2005 sometime before we can reasonably expect to put
someone on the ground. It takes a year to train new wardens.”

By that time, Stark said there will be 31 to 36 vacancies as
current wardens retire.

New warden classes begin in January in years when there’s enough
money to hire recruits. Stark did not hire a new class in 2003
because of expected budget cuts. Nor will there be a class hired to
begin in January of 2004.

If budget concerns relax enough for there to be some hope of
hiring recruits for 2005, Stark may try to retool the academy and
start a class in July of 2004.

Meanwhile, field wardens who blow their mileage budget in
November and December will try to make up for it in January,
February, and March by patrolling on snowmobiles and ATVs. The
bureau is not charged mileage on either type of vehicle.

The Bureau of Law Enforcement has received assistance from
conservation groups over the years with donations of equipment.
This year marks the first time that a club donated money for
patrols.

“The Vernon County Alliance of Conservation Clubs donated $1,500
for field warden Dick Wallin to put toward mileage for patrol.
Conservation groups have really helped us out in a lot of ways, and
this is a new way that they’re helping,” Stark said.

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