California's Thin Green Line
Game Wardens around the planet dedicate themselves to defending public safety, wildlife, and habitats. California Game Wardens are no exception. In fact, their job is highlighted by the fact that California is the most populous state in the union. California also has some of the most diverse wildlife and habitat resources on the planet. Although more overtime funds are dedicated as more species and ecosystems become threatened, many Game Wardens are not able to tap into this potential extra pay. Those who are must sacrifice dwindling family and personal time. To access these funds, Wardens push themselves into harm's way dealing with increased risk and public demand, just to scratch the bottom of the pay scale of other high-profile, high-demand CA state peace officers. As an example, in 2014, one CA Game Warden worked 4 months worth of overtime -- a 16 month year -- and still came up short of the average CHP Officer pay.
Game Wardens have worked diligently under the radar for many years, but as California's population approaches 40 million, the threats to California's wildlife and ecosystems continue to increase. New laws, new regulations, and exponentially increased interest in California's natural resources has created greatly increased responsibilities and demands on Game Wardens, stretching California's Thin Green Line even thinner.
In 1849, a year before California became the 31st of the United States, John Sutter (of Sutter's Fort fame) was enforcing Mexican fish and game laws. As a one-year old state, California enacted her first fish and game laws in 1851. These laws soon applied to all counties in the state, and in 1870 the "Board of Fish Commissioners" was formed. This was the predecessor to the current California Fish and Game Commission. Even in her infancy, California was forward thinking -- this was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States!
In 1871, the first 2 Game Wardens were appointed: one to patrol San Francisco Bay and the other to patrol the Lake Tahoe area. Those two Game Wardens were the first two California statewide law enforcement officers -- the first of many proud officers of California's first statewide law enforcement agency!
As California's population increased so did the demands on Game Wardens. The California Fish and Game Wardens' Association (CFGWA) originated in 1922, and was established with the CA Secretary of State in 1937. CFGWA is a tax-exempt IRS 501 (c)(5), and advocates for rank-and-file employees (Wardens, Warden Pilots, and Lt. Specialists) of the Law Enforcement Divsion of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
CA WARDENS and COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
In the late 1970's, California's collective bargaining system (unions) was born and solidified in state law. Currently there are nearly 80,000 California peace officers: Sheriff's Deputies, Police Officers, Highway Patrol Officers, Park Rangers, CSU and UC Officers, Department of Justice Agents, Fire Prevention Officers, Game Wardens, and many more. In 2014, there were 264 California Game Wardens. Unfortunately, they are among the vast minority whose representation for wages, hours, and working conditions is restricted by a union whose largest classifications are CHP dispatchers and DMV licensing-registration examiners.
These and other non-sworn employees are extremely valuable to California. However, the risk and demand that is placed on peace officers should afford them the opportunity to bargain collectively with only other peace officers. In fact, for almost every other peace officer in California, it does. Throughout California's almost 80,000 peace officers, the 2,500 sworn officers lumped with Game Wardens are the minority who are forced to bargain collectively (for wages, hours, and working conditions) with non-sworn employees.
In 2006, CA Game Wardens lobbied in the Capitol for and were granted a pay increase. CA Legislators understood full well the peril Game Wardens, and thereby California, were facing. This huge show of support from California's leaders was fractured by Game Wardens' parent union. Though the CA Legislature had set aside enough money for Game Wardens to receive compensation equal to other high-profile, high-demand CA state peace officers, Wardens' parent union appropriated that money. They distrubuted it among their 7000 members -- of which only about 2500 are peace officers. Currently the peace officers in Bargaining Unit 7 (BU7) are the only cops in the state that must bargain (for issues related to wages, hours, and working conditions) with non-sworn personnel. The Legislature has repeatedly recognized the value of California's peace officers. However, it is an unfair challenge for BU7 sworn officers to meet at the bargaining table with non-sworn personnel.
Almost 10 years have passed, more than 2 million people have been added to the California population, and numerous mandates, laws, and regulations have increased demands on, and responsibilities of, California's Game Wardens. During this time, Game Warden's salary, incentives, and benefits have remained stagnant.
TODAY'S CA GAME WARDEN
As California's wildlife, water, and habitat threats increase, so too do the threats to California's Game Wardens. CA Game Wardens have been involved in several officer involved shootings in the last decade. In order to begin to compete with other high-profile, high-demand CA state peace officers, Wardens rely heavily on fluctuating overtime accounts. These overtime accounts are typically generated toward vulnerable species and habitats. However, Wardens frequently have to travel outside their patrol districts and away from their families to gain access to these accounts. As Wardens vacate their patrol districts, their local constituents and wildlife suffer as calls for service are not handled and the deterrent effect of proactive patrol disappears. Warden families know the overtime story well, and for many of them working weeks away from home is what it takes just to scratch at the bottom of the average pay for other vital law enforcement agencies.
Currently, CA Game Wardens earn about 35% less than other high-demand, high-profile CA state peace officers. California requires Game Wardens to have at least 60 units of college credit to be hireable. However, many Game Wardens have Bachelor's Degrees in wildlife, law enforcement, or related fields. Californians expect and deserve a Warden force that is motivated, educated, well-trained, and fully able to serve their crucial role in public safety while protecting California's diverse wildlife and habitat ecosystems.
CFGWA helps California Game Wardens tell their story and reminds Californians how valuable our wildlife, water, and habitat resources are. CA Game Wardens remain at the forefront of the constantly evolving battle to protect California's public safety, citizens, visitors, wildlife, habitats, and outdoor heritage.
The CFGWA advocates for and promotes Game Wardens' changing story:
California is a leader in all things environmental.
Game Wardens are California's first and best line of resource protection and enforcement.
California has the lowest number of Game Wardens per capita in any state or province in North America.
Game Wardens have adapted to meet California's growing environmental needs and are dedicated to providing
public safety and resource protection without adequate representation and compensation.
California's Game Wardens' salary has not changed with the times, and has not kept pace with other high- demand, desperately needed law enforcement professionals in the state.
We provide a voice for Game Wardens in the Capitol and throughout California -- everywhere California citizens and visitors recreate, and demand and deserve their wild things and wild places to be protected.