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For the Love of Wildness

A while back, I read a book titled For Love of Wildness by retired Game Warden Terry Grosz.  I wish I’d found it earlier in my marriage to help me understand my husband’s love for his work.  This time of year, I always needed a good reminder of why he chose his profession and why he devoted so much time and energy that wasn’t always appreciated.

Starting in September and lasting into January, lives of game wardens and their families cease to be their own.  These law enforcement officers rise before dawn and come home to supper long after dark.  When they aren’t working with landowners and checking hunters, they are teaching one hunter safety class after another to the next generation of hunters.  Like any good teacher, their work doesn’t begin or end with the actual class.  They spend hours organizing materials and speakers to create  quality learning experiences for students who sit through more than ten hours of rigorous coursework.  Following the class, these officers spend another hour or two finalizing paperwork. 

Many times, these men and women miss their children’s activities so they can ensure other people experience safe, quality hunts. Over the years, I shared many meals with a table full of game wardens, and not once have I heard one complain.  I won’t say their spouses are as goodhearted, but after reading Terry Grosz’s book, I realize the title says it all, for love of wildness.  These individuals believe in something bigger than themselves and their families. They do everything in their power to ensure anyone who wants an ethical and legal outdoor experience has the chance to have one.

Not every country offers this right to its citizens.  It’s because of farsighted conservationists and good planning on the part of state governments that Americans can experience nature through hunting and fishing. It would be nice to think everyone respects the rights of others to have a fair chance at legal game, but tain’t so.  Probably never has been.  My great-grandfather was one of the first game wardens in this state, and he dealt with market hunters.  Talk about abuse of resources.   

When daylight shortens, the workday of local game wardens lengthens.  As each new season opens, they rise to meet early hunters and stay awake late to put illegal spotlighters out of business.  Most of their business involves law-abiding folks who appreciate Kansas resources. Unfortunately, some individuals think they are entitled to more resources than the rest of us.  On other occasions, disrespectful persons figure landowners’ rights, no trespassing signs, and no hunting signs don’t pertain to them.

These people don’t understand the work conservation officers perform to encourage landowners to allow hunting.  This is a constant public relations effort. Spouses of game wardens answer many of these calls, providing  insights into their partners’ work..  Unfortunately for landowners and game wardens, it’s often frustrating. 

Another aggravation occurs in a few counties where the judicial system doesn’t understand the delicate balance worked out among landowners, hunters, and wildlife law enforcement.  When  landowners complain justifiably, game wardens work to protect a their rights so they will continue to permit legal hunters on their land.  It’s irritating to see these cases get dismissed or receive minimal fines.  It’s hard for game wardens to tell folks who made the effort to call in a poacher or a trespasser that the case didn’t receive due consideration in the courts. 

Game wardens I know don’t let such annoyances get them down for long.  They believe in something bigger than themselves or they wouldn’t keep doing what they do.  There are easier and safer ways to make a living that guarantee more quality family time. 

Without this cadre of committed law enforcement officers, the rest of us might not enjoy sounds of migrating cranes, ducks, and geese.  Seeing a deer in the wild might be reserved for those well off enough to travel to  national parks.  These officers have a love for wildness, and they live to make sure that others have an equal chance to share that love.