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We've come a long way together since the conservation warden service started 120 years ago when Rolla Baker, Wisconsin's first warden, was assigned to patrol Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas counties, and the Lake Superior fishery. Rolla had no uniform. No expense allowance. No transportation except for his horse and his own two feet. And his daily wage was about what you and I spend on a cup of coffee these days.
The early wardens faced tough challenges. Market hunters and settlers struggling to survive in the wilderness generally ignored or resisted limits on their hunting and fishing, despite the signs all around them. Elk had vanished from the land. Deer numbers were bottoming out. Fish and ducks were stacked like cordwood on the shores of Lake Michigan bound for commercial markets, and the passenger pigeon was on its way to extinction.
The change we've seen in attitudes, resource management and enforcement in 120 years has been remarkable. Deer populations are at record levels, turkey have rebounded beyond belief, elk again roam the Wisconsin woods and fishing is great.
This didn't happen by chance. It took advances in science and our understanding of the natural world around us, and hard work from fish managers, wildlife managers, pollution control staff, conservation wardens and citizens.
We are proud of the role that Rolla Baker and the 1,610 men and women who followed him in the warden service have played in this recovery, and we celebrate their accomplishments.
We are also turning to the future. Today's conservation wardens face increasingly complex challenges, their authority and responsibilities are broader than Rolla Baker could have ever imagined – wardens enforce laws regarding fish and wildlife, boating, snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicles, the environment, water regulation, shoreline protection, and forestry. At the same time, the number of people enjoying the outdoors, and enjoying new kinds of recreation, has surged. Personal watercraft and all-terrain vehicles are but two of these new activities that provide new outdoors opportunities but also create more conflict with traditional users and with others seeking beauty, and solitude in Wisconsin's outdoors.
These conflicts and demands on our natural resources will continue as our state's population increases. We, both citizens and visitors of this state, are challenged to work smarter to insure that we can continue to enjoy and pass down to our children a clean environment, abundant natural resources, and safe recreation. To help achieve these goals, our conservation warden service will focus in the coming century on the following areas:
We are pleased to share these articles that describe our aims and our operations. We hope they help give you an understanding of how these men and women have been proud to serve you and our natural resources for 120 years, and how we will work together in the coming century to do so.
Thomas L. Harelson
Visit the law enforcement pages on the Department of Natural Resources' website for more information about Wisconsin's warden service.