Game wardens are a critical part of our modern hunting culture, ensuring that only licensed hunters operate within specific boundaries and within a specified time of year. Their job preserves the prey of hunters (and fishermen) for future generations, but also has very deep roots that many people are unaware of. Knowing a bit more about game wardens will help you appreciate the difficult tasks they must perform.
European kingdoms often set aside the choicest lands for the personal use of the king. It is upon these lands that the king and his party would hunt deer, boar, bear and other beasts of the forest. Initially, a game warden was used as a coordinator of the hunt, managing the dogs and peasants used to flush game. Later on, his duties came to include patrolling the forests and streams on the lookout for poachers. This duty became increasingly important in the late middle ages as the king's lands encompassed more and more territory, forcing many hunters to turn to poaching in order to make ends meet. Under King Richard I of England, poaching was a serious offense, with poachers often killed for their transgressions.
The German equivalent of a game warden is called a "jagermeister" (YAY-ger MY-ster) which translates into "land master." Jagermeisters were similar to English game wardens in preserving the lands of the local noble from poaching, but also kept up the trails and pathways through the woods as well as oversaw logging and other forestry programs. Jagermeisters are still used today in Germany, often employed by the state and patrolling in specially marked vehicles.
Early American Game Wardens
Throughout most of America's history, the vast wilderness and relatively untapped resources of the New World made the the need for game wardens disappear. It was not until naturalist John Muir advocated for and helped to create California's Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant (later renamed King's Canyon) parks that game wardens became necessary. These parks were protected by the state of California as wildlife preserves, prompting the state to hire mountaineers to patrol the woods and prevent unauthorized hunting, fishing and logging.
National Forestry Service
Though the National Forestry Service was established before his time, President Theodore Roosevelt is responsible for not only increasing the acreage of national parks, but also with providing the National Forestry Service with adequate money to hire game wardens. By the end of Roosevelt's second term in 1908, he had added 125 million square miles and six new national parks to the federal system, all of which needed to be patrolled.
Modern Game Wardens
With the rise of the environmentalism in the late 1960s and early '70s, the job of a game warden changed. In addition to preventing unauthorized hunting and fishing, game wardens are now responsible for investigating wilderness- or wildlife-related crimes, ensuring that wildlife that has wandered away from its protected area returns home, and acting as a liaison with the general public, educating them on the importance of conservation and wildlife protection.
Modern game wardens are considered law enforcement personnel with the right to arrest poachers, confiscate illegal or dangerous equipment and issue citations for infractions. As a result, all federal-level and most state-level game wardens must have a college degree in forestry, environmental studies or a similar field as well as pass background checks and complete a law enforcement program before they can be hired.