Game wardens seek to duck furloughs

Feb. 11, 2010

By ELISE VIEBECK

Witnesses at a recent Assembly hearing voiced concerns that game wardens, unlike conventional law enforcement officers, must comply with Friday furloughs. Wardens cited an increase in poaching as one reason to exempt the state’s 209 field-level wardens from breaks.

The Department of Fish and Game estimates that furlough relief for wardens would cost the state $2 million every year.

Wildlife groups have already urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to modify the system in this way. In a letter dated January 26, the Humane Society compared game wardens with highway patrol officers, and concluded that wardens suffer longer hours and smaller salaries in service of a wider mandate.

“California state game wardens deserve the same exemption from furloughs afforded to all other law enforcement, and we … implore you to grant it immediately,” it read.

The Governor’s office responded to a similar request last month.

“That work should not be impacted by temporary furloughs that are scheduled to end in five months,” said Spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola in response to a letter from the California Fish and Game Commission.

She added that wardens are permitted to furlough on a floating basis.

Statistics released by Fish and Game show a consistent increase in poaching in the state since 2005, with a surge in 2008 — corresponding with the economic downturn. Published reports estimate that wildlife officers catch between 1 percent and 5 percent of all code offenders, and that California’s warden-per-capita figure is the lowest in North America.

There are no bills currently active on warden furlough issues. Analysts say that because the system was created by executive order, there is no clear path for legislators interested in amending it.

“It’s an open question,” said one Water, Parks and Wildlife committee staff member. “Members have been sympathetic, but it is unclear what we could do as a committee to end furloughs — aside from raising the issue with the administration during the budget process.”

The governor’s proposed budget for Fish and Game in 2010 cuts $5 million from hunting and fishing programs, but includes $2 million for new warden positions.

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  1. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 13 February, 2010, 08:49

    I see a vicious cycle here: Special interests cause California problems; drastic measures are required; special interest gets exempted from solution.

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