From Resource Protection to Hurricane Rescues, Game Wardens Take Care of Texas
|Hurricane Ike rescue, 2008 Photo by Earl Nottingham/TPWD|
For 125 years, Texas Game Wardens have protected not only the residents and visitors of Texas, but the state’s incredible natural resources as well. Since 1895, “call your game warden” has been the best answer to a wide array of problems and questions, especially in rural communities, where they are best known for their work with hunting/fishing law enforcement.
There have been a lot of milestones along the way:
- 1946: First game warden school held at Texas A&M University
- 1971: Game wardens given peace officer status
- 1979: First female game warden
- 2007: Museum established at Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens
- 2009: New training center opens in Hamilton County
Specialized teams have expanded the capabilities of game wardens in exciting new ways over the past decade, as we profiled a few years ago in the magazine. Underwater and swift-water recovery teams have proved invaluable in emergencies; unmanned aerial systems, forensic accident reconstruction and criminal analysis keep game wardens up-to-date on the latest crime-solving techniques.
One of our most recent game warden features, “Black Market Wildlife,” tells the fascinating stories of illegal wildlife trade investigations, such as gigantic fish, all kinds of turtles, shark fins, hummingbird love charms and a long list of banned items for sale at flea markets.
“We’ve seen everything,” says game warden Steve Stapleton. “We’ve found live white-tailed deer in cages for sale, raccoons for sale, opossums, armadillos. It never ceases to amaze me what we’ll find.”
The K-9 unit, established in 2013 has won the hearts and imaginations of many Texans, including some of our youngest residents. We get a little misty when we read this passage from Mike Cox’s 2014 article, “Ready to Rescue.”
“The youngsters had been trapped with their parents atop their roof when Onion Creek turned into a raging river … Although safe, they were scared and crying. Then they spotted Game Warden Christy Vales’ dog, Ruger, a Labrador retriever. Their tears drying quickly, the kids bolted toward the dog to pet it, their recent harrowing experience at least temporarily forgotten.”
Game wardens provide heroic efforts after major disasters, especially the devastating hurricanes that devour everything in their path. In 2008, 200 game wardens came out after Hurricane Ike to help with rescue and recovery efforts. In 2017, 368 wardens rescued more than 12,000 persons from Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters. Remarkably, as we described in “Harvey’s Reckoning” in 2017, some rescuers turned away from their own flooding homes to save others, like Game Warden Dustin Dockery.
“I just shook my head,” he remembers. “Then I went back to handling what I could. At that point, all you can do is go back to work. Thank goodness, my family was safe.”
Game wardens from nine states came to help Texans during Harvey. After all, Texas game wardens have always done the same. In 2005, 111 Texas game wardens responded to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and rescued more than 5,000 victims.
Today, Texas game wardens are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring personal protective gear was delivered places of critical need, like rural areas. They’re assisting at testing sites and driving samples to labs.
“We’ve been called the Swiss-Army Knife of Texas law enforcement, and we take that to heart,” interim Colonel Ronald VanderRoest, who leads the TPWD Law Enforcement Division, said recently. “We are proud that Texas Game Wardens are ready for anything. We know our game wardens are successful in adapting, and we pride ourselves on community-oriented policing. That is the foundation of how we operate.”
Texas game wardens are now the stars of a reality series on Animal Planet, “Lone Star Law.” The popular show has been running for seven seasons. We love the way the show describes our game wardens.
“Whether rushing to investigate poaching cases, save flash-flood victims, disrupt illegal smuggling rings, or rescue injured wildlife, the officers are always on the go, defending both animals and citizens.”
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