FWP Law Enforcement actions cut 30 percent

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

Courtesy photo Poaching is a waste for everyone. FWP Warden law enforcement hours in Montana are being cut 30 percent with unknown effects on policing.

The 2017 Montana Legislature has determined that Montana FWP must now receive 30 percent of its wardens’ salary needs from federal funding with the condition imposed that it cannot be used for law enforcement activities.
Red Lodge based Warden Matthew Heaton said, “it’s been a major adjustment and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work. With my parks and water safety budgets and hours it’s definitely cut into my fish and wildlife enforcement patrols and investigations.”
It gives no leeway to the department and although it became effective July 1, it will have one of the biggest effects on the upcoming hunting season. Technically, it states that this applies to all wardens, investigators, captains and sergeants. Formerly FWP received 4 percent in federal funds towards salaries with conditions for wildlife management activities.
Greg Lemon, Information Bureau Chief, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said it was “a significant change affecting FWP enforcement division work as directed by the 2017 Montana Legislature.”
Actions that may be directly affected by reduction or delay include: Proactive license compliance patrols; Angler compliance; Hunter compliance; Block management enforcement and patrols; Fish and wildlife violation investigations; Public education and presentations; Assisting with fisheries programs and projects and Customer Service at front offices.
Lemon said, “In fact, all wardens, sergeants, captains, and investigators must now spend at least 30 percent of their time on non-enforcement activities. That’s because that 30 percent by law is now funded by federal Pittman-Robertson (PR) Act money which may only be used for wildlife management related activities.”
Law enforcement work like routine patrols, poaching investigations, and check stations are specifically identified as ineligible for this funding under federal law and rule.
According to FWP, this change will redirect a total of 70,000 hours of game warden time, the equivalent of about 30 game warden positions. These hours will shift from enforcement work to eligible wildlife management work. Each warden, investigator, sergeant and captain will need to spend about 14 hours a week – more than a day and a half – on wildlife management related activities within the parameters of PR funding. This is equivalent to 4 months of work for each individual.
Dave Loewen, Enforcement Division Chief told CCN, “While the wardens can and do have the educational background for assisting and working with the FW Division, the bigger concern is when they’re out doing that work they’re not doing resource protection.”
When asked if it will increase poaching he said, “I’ve asked that myself. We’ll have to take situations as they come. This became law two and a half months ago. We’re learning as we go. We’re trying to balance the need to protect resources.” Loewen said they are understaffed to begin with, having several warden vacancies. We will do our best to use existing wardens to fill the gap. There’s definitely a law enforcement demand out there.”
The biggest impact according to Loewen may be on FWP investigators who do nothing but full time investigation. “We’ve put into place large scale poaching investigations. It will have a significant effect.” The investigations go on all year long. They may be multi-state and even extend to other countries. It will be a challenge but Loewen admits, “They may not be of as much depth” due to curtailed hours.
As a result of PR he said, “People should expect and be aware there may be a lack of law enforcement response as they’ve been used to in the past. Some calls may not get answered.”
Loewen said the PR hours allocated will be “sprinkled through the year” so there will not be months without law enforcement. “We are working with wardens to try to predict when to best use their PR time.”
The 2017 legislature, through House Bill 2, which is the general budget bill, directed the change. PR funding comes from a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition and by federal law it may only be used for wildlife restoration and management activities.
A “Fact Sheet” has been distributed by FWP to its employees. It states that “By being careful to adhere to federal PR rules, FWP will ensure Montana remains eligible for all federal funds, which currently total approximately $30 million annually.”
This legislative budget directive is in effect in the current biennium, from July 2017 through June 2019.
It is certain that FWP will be audited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers PR funds, to ensure no law enforcement work was performed using PR funding.
Lemon states that “Irrespective of concerns for compliance with federal rules, the legislature has directed FWP to implement this change. The 2019 legislature will assess the effects of this direction and evaluate how well FWP followed it.”
FWP stated that region-specific work plans are in place to ensure thinking ahead about the wildlife management that needs to be accomplished. The wildlife and enforcement divisions together with the regions have carefully developed individual warden work plans to incorporate this funding shift. Together the divisions and FWP leadership are identifying, prioritizing, and adding PR-eligible work, while balancing law enforcement work that is affected or not accomplished. This collaboration is well underway.
The enforcement division has developed an electronic tracking system for use by the regions to accurately account for both law enforcement and PR eligible activity hours worked.
According to FWP, “This new directive doesn’t change FWP’s overarching mission of managing Montana’s fish, wildlife, parks, and recreational resources with expertise, professionalism, and commitment to public service. However, this does change the way it does its work. Some traditional law enforcement activities will necessarily be reduced. This will mean, at times, that wardens, investigators, sergeants, and captains will be accomplishing non-law enforcement work and unable to respond to traditional conservation law enforcement needs. Enforcement may be less visible and available.”
Eligible work enforcement staff will now be doing includes: Landowner outreach to identify access possibilities; Block Management Area set up; Wildlife surveys; Wildlife disease surveillance; Grizzly bear conflict prevention; Habitat maintenance; Game damage investigations and Hunter education.
FWP says, “FWP has every intention of successfully meeting the expectations of the legislature, the USFWS, and our constituents—and is planning and implementing this new direction collaboratively.”
Lemon said, “We expect many more questions will arise as we approach the general hunting season. Going forward, Montana game wardens must use their time differently than in the past.”
Contact Lemon: Office: (406) 444-3051, Cell: (406) 370-0077 or Enforcement Division Chief, Dave Loewen, 444-5657.

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