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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

October 1999

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Memories and memorabilia

Important dates and events in the history of Wisconsin's warden service.

Judy Borke and Ralph Christensen

A typical year
Wisconsin Warden's Museum
Table of Contents

Territorial laws regulate game, fish and trapping activities, water navigation, wildfires and timber trespass
First statewide hunting regulations

Amount of training required to become a warden:
1957 – 80 hours
1972 – 240 hours
1998 – 810 hours

First statewide fishing regulations
First commercial fishing regulations
Rolla Baker of Bayfield appointed as first fish warden in northern counties
First four game warden positions created
Early warden badge. © Robert Queen
First deer hunting licenses ($1 for residents and $30 for non-residents) provide first funding for state conservation purposes
Civil Service established in Wisconsin, ending political appointments to the warden force
Major year for conservation developments:
– Wisconsin Conservation Commission created (it later became the Wisconsin Conservation Department) natural resource laws restructured for 1917 publication became basis of current natural resource laws.
– $1 non-resident rod & reel fishing license required.
– Fish and game wardens' titles changed to "conservation warden."
Warden Pension Fund established, becoming first retirement plan for state employees. It provided $50 per month during retirement

A typical year

Here's a sampling of the warden service's activities in 1997:

Issued or processed 20,881 natural resource citations and criminal complaints, which resulted in $4,411,388 in penalties.

Answered 165,000 telephone calls and investigated 14,331 complaints and notices of violations of hunting, fishing, boating, snowmobiling, habitat and other laws.

Rescued people or property in 112 incidents.

Handled 462 incidents of non-DNR related crimes committed in the warden's presence.

Investigated 1,629 violations of environmental regulations – everything from burning tires to asbestos violations to hazardous waste dumping.

Responded to 603 toxic and hazardous materials spills.

Investigated 1,042 violations of water and shoreline regulations.

Investigated 564 hunting, snowmobile, boating, and all-terrain vehicle accidents.

Gave 2,003 talks to 5th-grade classes, and made 3,732 other presentations to schools and youth groups, civic organizations and sports clubs – in total, to more than 100,000 people.

Prepared 2,002 newspaper articles, spoke on 709 radio shows, and appeared on 210 television programs.

– Lisa Gaumnitz

Two-way FM radios issued, starting in northern counties, to aid communication during emergencies
Special Investigation Section created
State Crime Lab established, which is available to wardens investigating violationsv
Warden force increased from 105 to 130 members
Training officer position created, which started organized training for the warden service
Boating safety and aerial surveillance programs started
Social unrest resulted in wardens working riot control at the State Capitol, the University of Wisconsin and at military installations
Wardens issued state cars, and legislation required wardens to receive emergency preparedness training
The office of Justice of the Peace is phased out, transferring fish and game violation cases to the state circuit court system
A pivotal year for Wisconsin's natural resources:
– Functions from the Conservation Department, Board of Health and Department of Resource Development combine to form the Department of Natural Resources.
– Wardens' duties expand to include environmental investigations and enforcement.
– DNR begins hunter education classes
– A federal court ruling reduces wardens' workweek to 40 hours
Wardens started coordinating a 500-volunteer effort to protect sturgeon spawning runs on the Winnebago Watershed
Wardens were given additional duties of enforcing Native American treaty rights and the Endangered Species Act
Most natural resource law violations were decriminalized, reducing charges from criminal to civil citations.
A fish and game violation hotline was established, 1-800-TIP-WDNR
The state legislature expanded warden authority to include general law enforcement in some circumstances
New laws dramatically increased fines for fish and game violations
Environmental warden positions created
The number of credentialed wardens increased from 191 to 209

Timeline prepared by Judy Borke, historian for the Wisconsin Warden's Museum.

Wisconsin Warden's Museum

In 1979, when wardens met in Wausau to celebrate their centennial, the old-timers brought artifacts from the past and shared their old stories. That moving experience prompted the group to build a permanent museum where people could discover the past efforts of Wisconsin's warden service and consider future issues in managing natural resources.

Warden Moeller, Green Bay, 1941. © DNR Photo
Warden Moeller, Green Bay, 1941. © DNR Photo

The Wisconsin Conservation Wardens Association (WCWA) took the lead in exploring possible locations and developing exhibit ideas. The new museum will be housed at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in Poynette, about 25 miles north of Madison. The center already attracts 40,000 visitors annually, who come to walk the nature trails, visit a display of Wisconsin native animals, see exhibits on environmental issues, and spend a few days learning about the outdoors.

The museum will be housed in a renovated building nestled near a pine plantation, the state game farm and a picnic area. Visitors can learn about warden history and conservation enforcement techniques, see the tools of the trade, and hear narratives from 120 years of warden life. The museum will also serve as an archive for artifacts, manuscripts, photos and files from the conservation wardens' colorful past. Anyone willing to donate relevant artifacts or documents is encouraged to contact the Law Enforcement Bureau at (608) 266-2141.

Renovations are slated to begin in July 2000 and the museum anticipates opening by spring of 2001. – Ralph Christensen, former chief warden from 1982 to 1997.