The Pennsylvania Game Commission started off the new year with a big step in the wrong direction.
Effective Jan. 1, the commission’s “wildlife conservation officers” have the new title of “state game wardens.”
I realize that some uninformed people have always called these wildlife officers “wardens,” but that has never before been their official title. For the past 30 years, commission officers have been known as “wildlife conservation officers.” Prior to that, they were officially titled, “game protectors.”
According to the agency’s own news release, “(These officers have) a basic duty to enforce the laws that regulate hunting, protect wildlife and the environment. However, their duties extend into education, research and a host of conservation programs.
“For example, Pennsylvania game wardens coordinate and supervise Hunter-Trapper Education programs. They also represent the agency at conservation and sportsmen’s club meetings, respond to nuisance wildlife complaints, and deal with injured wildlife and suspected rabid-animal calls. Warden work also includes wildlife surveys, wildlife trap-and-transfer, field research and providing programs to civic groups and public schools.”
The Game Commission is entrusted with protecting more than 460 species of birds and mammals — of which only about 60 species are considered “game animals.” Those 60 species amount to about 13 percent of the total.
“The job titles previously used to describe our field officers – game protector and wildlife conservation officer – didn’t fully identify their unique and diverse responsibilities,” explained Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The word ‘warden’ is America’s oldest title for the men and women who serve wildlife in this capacity.”
This is 2018, not 1918. I ask a simple question: Using the agency’s own description of these officers’ duties, which of these titles do you think best describes these officers’ “unique and diverse responsibilities”?
- Game warden
- Game protector
- Wildlife conservation officer
I don’t know about you, but if I want to see a “warden,” I’ll go to the Rockview or Huntingdon state correctional facilities.
As an ethical hunter, I want the commission’s field officers to be out there consistently and fairly enforcing the law. However, they have numerous other duties, and many of the laws that they enforce do not pertain to “game” – species that are hunted or trapped.
I guess, if your goal is to paint field officers as one-dimensional enforcers of the game laws, then “game warden” it is. I know several conservation officers who have spent much of their careers attempting to counter their image as heavy-handed law enforcers. I wonder if they were consulted about this change.
A final thought: Such change always costs money, in this case for new uniform emblems, shields and business and vehicle decals. Why would an agency cutting programs and claiming that it is strapped for cash want to spend money — to the tune of $50,000 — on an unnecessary name change?