Game Warden History
The appointment of the 1st Minnesota Game Warden occurred on March 20, 1887. Then Governor Andrew McGill hired W. Fred Zwickey, Sheriff of Polk County, as the only game warden for the entire state. He was not given a salary or reimbursed expenses, just given the task to protect the resource. In 1888, railroad shipping records indicated an excess of 50,000 pounds of fish is shipped from Brainerd to eastern states. In 1892, the first salary of $50 per month was established and the wardens had to use their personal vehicles. In 1896, approximately 3 tons of venison was seized in a railroad car. In 1925, there was 135 Game Wardens in Minnesota. The number of field stations and Game Wardens grew very little over the years. In 1897, the first Minnesota game warden is killed in the line of duty in late October. Charles Wetsel was stabbed and bludgeoned to death while working a moose and fish netting case near Bemidji.
In 1940, 3 Game Wardens were killed conducting a commercial license check. It was referred to as one of the deadliest days in Minnesota law enforcement history. The 3 unarmed Game Wardens were shot to death by a commercial fisherman on the shores of Lake Sakatah in Waterville, MN. After killing the Wardens, the gunman turned the 12-gauge shotgun on himself. In 1941, there were still only 135 game wardens, the seizure of automobiles in shining cases was authorized and it was illegal to possess a firearm while shining. Also all game wardens were issued uniforms and a duty belt with a .38 caliber handgun.
In the early 1950’s, red lights and sirens were becoming common in Game Warden vehicles. Their vehicles were privately owned with a limited payment of mileage. The first Game Warden retirement program is established with 6% of their salary placed into this account. Retirement is offered after 25 years of service and at age 55 they were given 50% of their high salary averaged from the past five years. The Firearm Safety program is established, becoming the corner stone for safety education programs in the state. In the early 1960’s, Game Wardens are issued vehicles by the state and applications were being taken to fill stations. There were 148 field stations filled by 139 field officers at that time.
In the 1970’s, the Peace Officer Standards and Training(POST) Board was founded. Officers are issued Peace Officer licenses with a mandatory 48 hours of continuing education every three years. In the 1980’s, four wheel drive pick-ups are replacing sedans as patrol vehicles across Minnesota. Turn In Poachers is created, a non-profit organization developed by citizens and Conservation Officers. Officer Bob Kangas was shot in Pine County while working deer shiners. The suspects were caught and arrested. Officer Kangas’ bullet proof vest saved his life. Officer Kangas was the first reported “saved by the vest” officer in the state. Mileage restrictions are limited to only 800 miles per month for each patrol vehicle. The Garcia ruling limits the number of hours a Conservation Officer can work per week. In 1987, the division of enforcement celebrates 100 years of service!
In the 1990’s, the K-9 program is established in the division. Several officers are trained and paired with dogs. The K-9 program continues today. The Wetland Conservation Act brought large changes to the division. Conservation Officers were given the authority to issue cease and desist orders for the draining or filling of a wetland. The introduction of Aquatic Invasive Species into Minnesota’s waters, also brought large changes to the division. Officers are given inspection training and civil citation authority to stop the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. In 1999, there were 149 field stations staffed by 132 field officers.
In 2002, Conservation Officers lose the authority to enter fish shelters without permission after a Minnesota Supreme Court decision. In 2003, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the inspection authority of a live well in a boat is legal. In July of 2007, Minnesota hosted the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officer Association’s (NAWEOA) annual conference in St. Paul. The Division of Enforcement celebrated 120 years of service. To this day, The State of Minnesota has 18 Game Wardens and Conservation Officers that paid the ultimate sacrifice while carrying out their duties.