About 3 weeks before dad died, he headed up Highway 21 to his patrol area. As he did many, many times, he stopped in at the Hilltop Cafe to have coffee with his friend Ray who owned the store.
This time however, would be different, although it wouldn't be known until several weeks later.
Dad and Ray were talking and dad mentioned to him that he had a feeling he was going to die near Atlanta. Atlanta is a very small town out the Middle Fork of the Boise River with only a few locals living there year round. Two of those year round residents were the Inama brothers. They were well known to dad for some of their illegal activities. Dad told Ray that he thought the Inama brothers would kill him, but, he said, "I'd rather die in the Owyhees."
Ray would pass this information on to the family not long after dad's death. Was it a premonition? I can only believe it was. I know dad didn't want to die and had no intentions of doing so. He had a brand new grandson that he loved very much. Whatever it was, it's something I'll never forget.
I've taken some time to list below, some of the unique dangers that Game Warden face...
Game Warden territories and patrol areas come with unique hazards that most law enforcement counter parts do not face.
Most citizen contacts and suspects are armed with weapons.
Numerous firearms - inspect and seize more guns than any other agency
Work alone - no partners
Uncontrolled environments with little or no backup
Routine dead zones in radio dispatch and cell-phone service
Long hours and night patrol when criminals are most active in the field
Traverse uneven ground on foot through mud, water, rocks, mountains, desert sands, cliffs, heavy vegetation
Difficulty in pinpointing location for backup (rural roads, no sign, no markers)
Criminals proficient with rifles and shotguns
Routine work outdoors in adverse weather conditions
Domestic and wild animal bites, clawing, scratching and exposure to zoonotic diseases
Only law enforcement for miles in some areas
Heavy exposure to mosquitoes and West Nile Virus
Discover and recover many disguised and concealed weapons
Use of specialized vehicles and boats, associated hazards
Special risks as a community based peace officer
As visible members of their communities patrolling out of their home bases, Game Wardens have additional unique hazards.
Wardens are singled out within communities - suspects, defendants, violators tend to make an effort to know where the local Warden and their family’s residence is located. Sometimes criminals seek out, find, and contact Wardens at their personal residences.
Difficult to be anonymous, some Wardens are the only representative officer for entire counties
Wardens maintain “resident posts” that unfortunately leads to the public tending to knock on Wardens home door for various reasons any hour of the day or night. Wardens tend to get “caught” on days off answering questions or other duties, usually not claiming work hours - sometimes at post office, gas station, grocery store, restaurants, etc.
Wardens are a large part of the community identified as public officials held to high standards 24/7
Other factors that make Game Warden work dangerous
Even though the majority of crimes committed by poachers are misdemeanors, Fish and Game laws are some of the most dangerous laws to enforce. Some poachers are willing to kill to continue their pursuit of killing wildlife that violates only misdemeanor laws. The illicit trade in selling wildlife parts in “black markets” is second only to the illegal drug trade, involving hundreds of millions of dollars in the unlawful sale of wild animal parts.
This has led to two additional disturbing statistics:
Statistics show Game Wardens at much higher risk to be assaulted or killed in the line of duty more often than officers of other agencies
Of all law enforcement agents, Wardens are most likely to be assaulted during their careers
Wardens patrol behind locked gates on large land holdings where there is a restriction on the access for EMS help or backup from other agencies that don’t have the same access, yet those areas must be patrolled to protect wildlife. Wardens patrol county, state, federal, and private lands.
Wardens routinely trail and subdue dangerous and wounded bears and lions. These animals may be depredation animals wounded but not killed by the permit holder or public safety animals where humans have altered the animal’s natural behavior, creating an unsafe situation that requires a final response from Game Wardens. This is a very stressful endeavor that has deadly results to the animal and sometimes humans. It has become a tragic situation that has just in the last few decades somehow become a “political” topic putting Wardens at undue risk. It is a tragic story that when a Warden that has dedicated his or her life to protect wildlife, must kill an animal that they were sworn to protect. As soon as they do what is required, they are subjected to hypocritical comments from people or the news media which blasts the Warden for “killing” the animal, not recognizing the fact the Warden has no choice because public safety dictates the action be taken. There have been too many incidents of extremists threatening to kill a named Game Warden for being the officer that killed or authorized the killing of a bear or lion.
It is very difficult to quantify in words that emotional feeling a Warden must endure to perform that duty the public expects him or her to perform.