Balsam Lake, Wis. — Jesse Ashton, the Polk County conservation warden since 2002, has been named by the Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement as the recipient of the 2014 Haskell Noyes Efficiency Award, commonly known in DNR conservation warden circles as “The Watch.”
The Haskell Noyes award has been presented annually since the first gold watch was presented to Ernie Swift in 1930. Members of the Noyes family continue to pay for and present the watch to the top field warden each year, which Haskell Noyes first did 84 years ago.
“I heard about the award in the academy and remember it being talked about as the biggest deal in the department,” Ashton said.
Wardens who are nominated by their supervisors are not aware of being considered, and only the winner is notified by his or her supervisor. Ashton’s supervisor is Russell Fell, who supervises conservation wardens in Barron, Burnett, Polk, Sawyer, and Washburn counties in the DNR’s Northern Region.
The Law Enforcement Management Team makes the selection from the nominations, which come from all five of the DNR regions.
The process of notifying The Watch winner rests with the nominating supervisor, in this case Fell, who was the 2012 award winner. It has become an informal challenge for the supervisor to find an interesting way to inform the field warden of the decision.
If one’s supervisor calls and asks to meet with a field warden, the warden is not about to say “no,” but is unlikely to suspect the real reason for the visit.
“I called Jesse and told him we needed to meet in Cumberland. I needed to borrow his snowmobile and I had some equipment to give him,” Fell said. “I led him on by saying this equipment had very specific directions and he needed to follow the directions, otherwise he’d screw it up. But Jesse is one of those guys who can usually figure out the details without much problem, so he seemed somewhat irritated when I explained the process.”
When Ashton took the instruction manual out of a box and looked at it, he pulled out a piece of paper that read, “Congratulations, you’ve been selected the 2014 recipient of the Haskell Noyes Award.”
“He looked at the paper for a few seconds, stunned,” Fell said. “He wasn’t expecting it. It seemed to take the air right out of his body.”
The Watch will be presented at a special banquet and ceremony at Big Rock Creek Farm in St. Croix Falls on June 6.
The guidelines for nominations consist of 20 points to address, beginning with the candidates having a well-balanced, quality conservation law enforcement program. Implementing the community wardening philosophy, commitment to teamwork, statewide consistency, and fish and game enforcement and protection are other areas the supervisors must address.
Fell summarized his nine-page nomination by saying, “Without a doubt, Jesse’s balance of an overall program has resulted in him bringing and making cases in all areas of a warden’s responsibility. They include criminal fish and game violations, OWI enforcement with recreational vehicles, environmental cases, and he’s even referred a criminal environmental case to the Department of Justice.”
Ashton is active in a number of extra duties, too, all of which increase his workload, but are important to the success of the warden force. These include being a field training officer for recruit wardens, a background investigator, a conservation warden academy instructor, and an internship supervisor, which is where Ashton first was introduced to a warden career.
How does this Polk County warden do all of this?
“He’s built such a strong relationship with his community and the people he serves, and has such a system of cooperators because people trust him and respect him. When they call him they know something is going to get done,” Fell said.
Ashton put his sights on becoming a conservation warden after the second day of an internship, but he hadn’t yet completed college. He applied to be a warden recruit anyway, and received an offer, switched his major to natural resources, and was on his way to the warden academy.
After spending some time in southeast Wisconsin, he got the station he wanted: Polk County.
“This was the job I always wanted,” Ashton said. “I got into this job in part to catch cabin shooters, walleye poachers, and turkey baiters. We have everything up here – bears, deer, fishers, bobcats, wolves, and turkeys in Polk County.”
Those critters were parts of Ashton’s past year, which also included investigations in goose hunting, wild ginseng gathering, sturgeon fishing, small game, possession of a controlled substance, fishing, wetland fill, spearing, agricultural damage fraud, trespassing, burning tires, license fraud, road hunting, illegal trapping, firewood transport litter, boating violations, and others.
Ashton waited until he got home to tell his wife, Tina. She was excited, he said, and understands what this award means to a warden.
“It’ll probably go in a shadow box,” Ashton said.