‘Off the Pavement’ Protection
Public cooperation helps game wardens serve vast areas.
By Mike Cox
Texas has 532 game wardens, but on a purely statistical basis, that means there are only a couple of officers for each of the state’s 254 counties. And when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was created by the Legislature in 1963, far fewer wardens were available to enforce hunting and fishing laws across a state that has 262,017 square miles of land and more than 3 million surface acres of water.
Wardens who provide “off the pavement” law enforcement have always relied on two major partners — other law enforcement agencies and concerned citizens who support not only law and order in general, but conservation of our natural resources.
On the local level, game wardens work closely with county sheriffs and constables as well as police departments. Serving Texas since 1895, and fully commissioned as peace officers since 1971, Texas game wardens routinely back up local officers on their calls, from domestic disturbances to drug cases and homicides. Similarly, local officers are always there if a game warden needs assistance.
Wardens also partner in their enforcement efforts with their fellow state officers: Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers and other officers with the DPS. Also at the state level, game wardens work with Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents and commissioned officers with the state attorney general’s office.
Beyond teaming with other law enforcement officers, TPWD game wardens depend a great deal on help from the general public.
The first way Texans assist game wardens in doing their job is simply by complying with the law, whether it is possessing a valid hunting or fishing license before taking game or fishing in public waters or abiding by bag limits and other hunting or fishing laws. In fact, voluntary compliance is the foundation of any law enforcement effort. No conservation agency has enough wardens to enforce the law without the cooperation of law-abiding citizens.
Another type of partnership comes from the willingness of people to do what’s right in reporting game law violations or even suspicious behavior that might signal illegal activity.
Last spring, for example, a tip to a game warden led to one of the most significant drug seizures in TPWD’s history. Wardens working with the U.S. Border Patrol arrested two suspects and seized more than 4,000 pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of nearly $4 million.
From another tip, wardens seized 52 mounted animal heads and other taxidermy items, all possibly hunted illegally in numerous states and Canada.
While information in those two cases came directly to the department from the public, thousands of game law violators (and no shortage of more serious criminals) have been brought to justice thanks to TPWD’s long-standing partnership with Operation Game Thief.
Begun in 1981 as a result of laws passed by the 67th Legislature to help curtail poaching, OGT offers rewards of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction for a wildlife crime. OGT is a function of TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division and has been responsible for the payment of more than $200,000 in rewards and the assessment of well over $1 million in fines.
Privately funded, the program is dependent on financial support from the public through the purchase of OGT merchandise and memberships, donations, sponsorships and gifts. The program also hosts annual fundraising events, including sporting clay shooting events in Austin, Houston, Midland and San Antonio.
In addition to calls to the OGT 24-hour tip hotline at 800-792-4263 (GAME), information via texting could qualify for a cash reward. The Tip411 program gives the public the option of texting information directly to TPWD communication operators.
Report violations via text:
• From your cellphone enter 847411 in the “TO:” box.
• Then enter tpwd (not case specific) in the message box, followed by a space.
• Type a message and send. All standard texting charges still apply.
OGT averages 1,500 calls a year, many resulting in the filing of game violation cases and some of them leading to arrests for felony crimes. This new technology is expected to increase the number of citizen tips received.
For more information on the OGT program and events, visit the program’s website at www.ogttx.com.