According to a release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the department is being required to shift 30 percent of their enforcement hours to wildlife management. This decision stems from the 2017 Montana Legislative session after the Legislature applied for more federal Pittman-Robertson funding rather than increasing license fees.
Pittman-Roberston money is raised by taxes on the sale of firearms and ammunition and can only be used on wildlife management work.
“This change will redirect a total of 70,000 hours of game warden time, the equivalent of about 30 game warden positions,” stated the agency in a press release last week. “These hours will shift from enforcement work to eligible wildlife management work.”
Montana FWP published a fact sheet early last week to help both their wardens, captains, investigators and sergeants and the general public understand how the shift might affect their work. Examples of eligible PR hours included block management setup, wildlife surveys, habitat maintenance and game damage investigations. Examples of ineligible hours under PR time include angler and hunter compliance checks, patrols and wildlife violation investigations.
“Basically, our positions are broken up into their specific hours and are funded through different sources,” said FWP Region Three Warden Captain Adam Pankratz. “Some portions go to pay warden wages, enforce regulations, etc.”
Pankratz said that historically, PR funded 4 percent of the enforcement division’s work.
“Now that’s changed and we are having to shift 30 percent of the position off enforcement work,” he said.
The change took effect in July of this year and will run through mid-2019.
What it means
As Southwest Montana moves into its general deer and elk hunting season, Pankratz said enforcement work like patrols, poaching investigations and check stations will be reduced.
“It’s hard to say where it’s going to have an impact and how,” he said. “There’s definitely going to be falling off that the public is aware of and knowing there may be less of a chance of getting caught.”
According to the agency’s fact sheet, each enforcement division has developed an electronic tracking system for use by the region to account for both law enforcement and PR eligible hours. The agency said it is certain they will be audited by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers PR funds, to ensure no law enforcement work was performed using that funding.
A good example of what this might look like for folks in the area is comparing how many fishing licenses wardens checked in July and August of 2016 to those check in July and August of this year – according to Pankratz, there was a 50 percent drop between 2016 and 2017.
“Who knows what will happen because of this,” said Pankratz. “It’s going to come down to what does the public want their game wardens doing – it’s not that we aren’t doing good work.”
For now, Montana FWP said they have every intention of meeting the expectations of the legislature but that does not changed their “overarching mission.”
“This new directive doesn’t change FWP’s overarching mission of managing Montana’s fish, wildlife, parks and recreational resources with expertise, professionalism and commitment to public service,” the agency stated. “However, this does change the way we do our work … This means, at times, wardens, investigators, sergeants and captains will be accomplishing non-law enforcement work and unable to respond to traditional conservation law enforcement needs. Enforcement may be less visible and available.”
The agency did say that the legislature will assess the effects of the shift and evaluate how well FWP followed the transition in their 2019 session.