Thursday, June 7, 2012

For Love of Wildness

Recently I read a book titled For Love of Wildness by retired Game Warden Terry Grosz.  I wish I had read it years ago to better help me understand my husband’s love for his work.  This time of year, I need a good reminder of why he chose his profession and why he continues to devote so much time and energy when it isn’t always appreciated by others.

            Starting in September and lasting into January, the lives of game wardens and their families cease to be their own.  These law enforcement officers rise before dawn and come home to supper long after dark.  When they aren’t working with landowners and checking hunters, they are teaching one hunter safety class after another to the next generation of hunters.  Like any good teacher, their work doesn’t begin or end with the actual class.  They spend hours organizing materials and speakers to create a quality learning experience for students who must sit through more than ten hours of rigorous coursework.  Following the class, these officers spend another hour or two finishing the paperwork for the class. 

Many times, these men and women miss their own children’s activities so they can ensure safe, quality hunts for future hunters. Over the years, I have sat down to many a meal with a table full of game wardens, and not once have I heard one complain.  I won’t say that their spouses are quite as goodhearted, but after reading Terry Grosz’s book, I realize the title says it all, for love of wildness.  These individuals believe in something bigger than themselves and their families, and they do everything in their power to guarantee that anyone who wants an ethical and legal outdoor experience has the chance to have one.

Not every country offers this right to its citizens.  It is because of farsighted conservationists and good planning on the part of state governments that Americans can experience nature through hunting and fishing.  It would be nice to think that everyone respects the laws and rights of others to have a fair chance at legal game, but tain’t so.  Probably never has been.  My great-grandfather was one of the first game wardens in this state, and he dealt with market hunters.  Talk about abuse of resources.   

As daylight hours shorten, the workday of local game wardens lengthens.  As each new season opens, they rise to meet the early hunters and stay up to put the late night hunters out of business.  Most of their business is done with respectful, law-abiding folks who appreciate the resources Kansas has nurtured.  But on occasion, someone gets it into his or her head that he or she is entitled to more of the state’s resources than the rest of us.  On other occasions, folks get it into their heads that landowners’ rights, no trespassing signs, and no hunting signs don’t pertain to them.

I have to believe these people don’t understand the work conservation officers do to make sure landowners are willing to allow hunting to a cross section of the public.  This is a constant public relations effort. Spouses of game wardens who answer many of these calls have a unique insight into the work their spouses do to keep the system running smoothly.  Unfortunately for landowners and game wardens, this is often frustrating on many fronts.  One of them is a matter of abuse.  Some people don’t obey signs, they don’t take care of fences, they poach.  The list goes on and on. 

Another frustration is the fact that in a few counties, the judicial system apparently doesn’t understand the delicate balance worked out among landowners, hunters, and wildlife law enforcement.  When a landowner complains justifiably, game wardens work their tails off to protect a landowner’s rights so he or she will continue to let legal hunters on their land.  Too often these cases are apparently perceived as trivial and get dismissed or receive minimal fines. 

Once again, I have sat a table with a group of good men who spent long hours trying to do the job they are hired to do only to find out that the case was dismissed or received minimal credence.  What do they tell the folks who made the effort to call in a poacher or a trespasser? 
One thing I have observed about the game wardens I know is that they don’t let these frustrations get them down.  They do believe in something bigger than themselves or they wouldn’t keep doing what they do.  There are easier and safer ways to make a living that guarantee more quality family time. 

Without this cadre of committed law enforcement officers the rest of us might not enjoy the sounds of migrating cranes, ducks, and geese.  Seeing a deer in the wild might be an experience reserved for those well off enough to travel to a national park.  These officers have a love for wildness, and they live to make sure that others have an equal chance to share that love. 

Published first in the Hays Daily News as a Country Ramblings Column—reprinted in numerous papers throughout the state and country.

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