MADISON -- More than 100 wardens and other law enforcement agency representatives were among those at last week's symbolic ceremony at the State Capitol Assembly Chambers as the Department of Natural Resources and its Bureau of Law Enforcement saluted its 17th Chief Conservation Warden Randy Stark as he ended his more than 31-year career, paving the way for the state's 18th Chief Warden, Todd Schaller.
The Bureau of Law Enforcement's Honor Guard led the ceremony, carrying in the flags while Warden Jeremy Peery directed orders for precision moves from the wardens and the non-credentialed staff.
Schaller told the audience he was a warden intern when he first met Stark while both were on patrol in Juneau County, and pursuing the warden career was the topic of the day.
"I don't recall the exact words used, but what I heard was if you're not committed - select a different path," Schaller said of a conversation that led to his 24-year career, most recently having served as the chief of the Recreation Enforcement and Education Section. "If you were to have that same conversation with an intern today, it would be much broader and include words like people skills, partnerships and adaptable."
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp called it a bittersweet, melancholy moment as she was happy for Chief Stark, but said she was sorry to know his work at the DNR was done. But, she said the warden service - and the state - will continue to feel his legacy which is reflected in today's wardens.
"Chief Stark has always had his eyes ahead, trying to see what was coming and then helping me help the department get prepared for it," Stepp said, adding the wardens "truly are the ambassadors of the Department of Natural Resources... and have been trained under Chief Stark to look at an issue from way above it. Wisconsin Wardens: You call. They come. Pretty simple stuff. But it's critical."
Stepp said her history book check showed Stark is the 17th Chief Warden since 1891. "That's not very many. It must be a good job!"
Stepp complimented the wardens and said they are what Chief Stark "likes to call the investment of choice. Showing the people of Wisconsin the wardens are there to protect and to serve you and the natural resources that make Wisconsin so great."
She also complimented new Chief Schaller, saying the state's warden service was delivered into highly capable hands - trained under Chief Stark to carry on.
"Chief Schaller has that ability to constantly review how things are done to see ways to improve as the world continues to get smaller and to change event faster... He has his eyes fixed ahead to anticipate the next issue while encouraging warden development to deliver the best public service possible," Stepp said.
Chief Stark delivered a sometimes teary-eyed speech, recalling his loaded history of events and decisions that marked his 31 years in uniform from conflicts at boat landings during the spearfishing protest days in the 1980s to welcoming tribal wardens to the Law Enforcement warden academy at Fort McCoy.
He made note of the seven warden hats on chairs, representing wardens killed in the line of duty and reminded all of a Gaylord Nelson quote: "Everything is ultimately a subsidiary of our natural resources."
Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith, a former DNR administrator who at one time was Stark's supervisor, delivered the oath of office to Chief Schaller.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Joanne Haas - DNR law enforcement public affairs manager, 608-209-8147