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Warden says he is short on staff

Deer poached from people’s front lawns in the dead of night, bears shot for their gall bladders and salmon snagged from the Yuba River will continue to be a problem as long as the state stays stingy with funding for game wardens.

Nevada County needs at least five game wardens to adequately respond to the public trust, said Jerry Karnow, the county’s only Department of Fish and Game warden.

Karnow is the legislative liaison for the organization and has been actively lobbying for more funding for game wardens from state legislators throughout the past two years. He says the lack of wardens is a crisis for California and will speak on the issue Thursday during a public Fish and Game Commission meeting in Truckee.



On a typical day, he fields phone calls and e-mails from public informants, hunters and anglers who spot illegal activity happening on public and private lands.

“You’re kind of like the Shell answer man on a lot of issues,” Karnow said. Answering phone calls takes away from his primary duty of proactively patrolling and keeping a presence in historic problem areas in Nevada and bordering counties where illegal fishing and hunting have occurred.




But wardens also are responsible for keeping water ways free of pollutants and many times wardens are the first to discover a marijuana farm or prevent a violent crime from occurring, Karnow said.

Budget crisis at fault

A lack of game wardens is widespread throughout the state and has been deficient since late 2001, when the budget crisis took hold and a hiring freeze was set in place, said Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano.

“Whenever we lost someone, we couldn’t replace them,” Martarano said.

Currently there are 315 sworn officers out of 361 authorized positions available in California. That number is down from 403 in 2000.

Only 215 of those wardens are on the ground patrolling 159,000 square miles of land and 220,000 square miles of ocean, according to Martarano and information from the California Fish and Game Warden’s Association.

In comparison, Florida has 750 wardens and Texas has 500, Karnow said.

“There is no doubt with those kinds of numbers we’re not able to do the enforcement work we want to do,” Martarano said.

To complicate matters, a high percentage of wardens retiring is expected in coming years and recruits are hard to come by because of the dangerous work and low pay, Martarano and Karnow both said.

Martarano said wildlife poaching is a major concern and Fish and Game has only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cracking down on large lucrative operations of illegal abalone and sturgeon harvests.

Wardens rely on tips from the public who call into the state’s hot line, but even that kind of community policing is not enough.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Martarano said.

Fishing impacts

On the lower Yuba, below the Highway 20 bridge, illegal fishing activity is common, especially during hunting season when wardens have their hands tied, said Tony Dumont, owner of Nevada City Anglers in Nevada City.

“You’ll see people take a steelhead or large rainbow when they’re not supposed to,” Dumont said.

At some times of year, fish must be released; other violations include fishing out of season.

Karnow said he also receives a lot of complaints of salmon poaching near the lower Yuba River.

Other offenses that could put fisheries at risk include fishing with bait or artificial lures in areas with restrictions, and taking home more than the allowable amount.

“It’s not a sustainable resource. Sooner or later they’ll dry up,” Dumont said.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

The California Fish and Game Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday and 8:30 a.m. Friday in the Truckee Donner Public Utility District Board Room at 11570 Donner Pass Road in Truckee. Nevada County Warden Jerry Karnow will give an update on the lack of game wardens in the state at Thursday’s meeting.

– The Union staff


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