Stories & Photos

Do you have a story to share? If you have a story that you'd like to share (funny or otherwise), please contact Nicole, Executive Director of the Montana Game Wardens Association (MGWA) at (406) 750-6310 or email at montanagamewardens@live.com. We would like to hear your story and will consider posting it on this website for all to read. Feel free to submit a photo or two with your story, and we will post that too.

 

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The family and friends of Matt Ladd are uniting to raise money to help with his bone marrow transplant and related expenses.

Matt was diagnosed with AML, a form of leukemia, last fall at the age of 38. Unfortunately, he also has MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome), which means that without a stem cell transplant, the cancer will aggressively recur within a year. Matt was hospitalized for a month in BIllings to undergo chemotherapy, which put the AML into remission. However, he developed a staph infection in his chest port just before he was admitted to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, which has compromised his kidneys and delayed his bone marrow transplant. He is currently undergoing dialysis and waiting to be well enough for his life saving bone marrow transplant procedure.

Matt was given more bad news yesterday. His kidneys will likely not survive the transplant, and he will have to undergo daily dialysis for several years until he can receive a kidney transplant.

Matt, an avid outdoorsman and game warden for the state of Montana, has been hospitalized in Seattle since early January. His wife, Maureen, a teacher at West Billings HS, and their three boys, ages 10, 12, and 14, are having difficulty with costly medical bills and travel expenses between Billings and Seattle. This unexpected catastrophic illness has the potential to devastate their family.

Matt's parents are staying in temporary housing in Seattle, a cost not covered by insurance, since Matt is required to have a trained caregiver to help him post-transplant. Also, Matt's sister, Jessica, will travel from New Orleans to donate bone marrow. None of her donor costs are covered by Matt's insurance plan.

Matt and Maureen are becoming emotionally and financially drained and we would like to take some of that worry away from them. We know they have many friends and loved ones. If you can keep them in your prayers, send a note or a "hug" via this website, and make a donation if the spirit moves you, it would help greatly to ease their difficult situation.

If you would prefer to mail a check, you may do so in Matt's name and send to: 617 Indian Trail, Billings, MT 59105.

Your support, love, and prayers are much appreciated

 

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FWP Wardens shave heads in support of sick co-worker

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By Brett French of the Billings Gazette Staff

There are a lot of bald game wardens working in Montana this fall, and it's all Courtney Tyree's fault.

It was Tyree's idea to shave his head in support of fellow Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden Matt Ladd, of Billings, who lost all of his hair while undergoing chemotherapy for a month.

"It's a way to let Matt know he's not alone in this," Tyree said.

Ladd was diagnosed in late September with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. Essentially, his bone marrow isn't producing enough red blood cells.

"It was a pretty big shock," he said. "It makes you rethink your priorities."

Ladd, who grew up in Stevensville, has served all six of his years as a warden in the Billings area. He is married to Maureen and has three sons, Dylan, Logan and Jack.

Group cut

After his suggestion to other Billings-based wardens that they show support by shaving their heads, Tyree and his co-workers gathered at the Region 5 warehouse Nov. 8, the day before Ladd was to be released from the hospital. Together, they trimmed each other to the pate, excluding Warden Capt. Harold Guse who is already bald. Then they caravanned to Billings Clinic to surprise Ladd.

"He was laughing pretty hard," Tyree said.

"Most of them have nice-looking heads," Ladd said.

He praised his co-workers, as well as the hospital staff and the rest of the community for their assistance and care.

"It's just been a lot of support from all facets," he said. "You don't realize until something happens how many friends you have. It's been great."

Back to work

Ladd was back on the job Oct. 13, helping out at the Roundup game check station. He was antsy to be working and back into a routine after so much down time at the hospital.

"It's a tough deal for him," Guse said. "Wardens from just about every region have joined in. It's a good thing to help buoy Matt's spirits."

Region 5 Sgt. Chris Anderson said he hadn't had his hair so short since he was 8 years old, and that was in the summer. Anderson also had a full beard that he shaved.

At last count, Tyree said about 42 wardens had buzzed their follicles to show support for Ladd. In the Missoula area, a group head-shaving was filmed for a television show on Montana game wardens. One warden used Photoshop to make her hair disappear, fooling her co-workers for awhile. Another cut Ladd's badge number into the back of his hair while one wrote "Advertising space for rent" atop his otherwise unadorned, shiny head.

Mike Korn, assistant chief of enforcement, said he had ordered some skull caps for fellow office workers who wanted to don the rubber caps and snap a photo to show their support.

"We are proud of our folks for standing behind Matt," Korn said. "And we want to let the public know that, no, they haven't been cleaning up a nuclear facility."

Looking to the future

For Ladd, however, there's still uncertainty ahead. Next year he hopes to go to a Seattle hospital for a stem cell bone marrow transplant, a treatment that requires his immune system to be completely wiped out, leaving him exposed to infections. The procedure could keep him down for three months. Until then, he undergoes periodic chemo treatments to keep the leukemia in remission.

Tyree has vowed to keep his head shaved until Ladd's grows back, or for a year, whichever comes first.

"It's the wrong time of the year to be shaving your head," Tyree said. "It's a little chilly."

 

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Policing the Woods

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Game warden Perry Brown's Fish, Wildlife and Parks jacket is seen in the back of his vehicle as he drives U.S. Highway 2 into Martin City. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

By Dillon Tabish  10-05-11

COLUMBIA FALLS – On an overcast morning in the middle of archery hunting season, Perry Brown quietly stepped through the brush of a wild piece of land near Hungry Horse Reservoir. A .40-caliber handgun clung to his right hip. Underneath his camouflage coat, a bright gold badge with a star in the middle read “Montana Game Warden.”

Brown had recently received a tip from a hunter about an illegal baiting site. Someone had reportedly set up a salt lick to attract elk and deer, which is illegal and carries a maximum possible penalty of $1,000, six months in jail and the loss of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges.

With GPS coordinates of the possible site in hand, Brown set out to investigate. He hiked along a game trail for almost a mile before stopping at the edge of an open meadow. He stepped out of the brush and approached a pile of rocks that looked organized. Brown rubbed one of the rocks with his finger and stuck it to his mouth, dabbing the front of his tongue. He nodded his head.

He continued walking around the trampled meadow. Brown pointed at an elk footprint that was as big as a clenched fist. Then he pointed up into the trees. A pair of tree stands built like small forts were hanging high above.

“This job is kind of a cat and mouse game,” Brown said later. “That’s how I look at it.”

Based in Columbia Falls, Brown has been a game warden for 24 years.

His job is one of the oldest in the state. Game wardens are responsible for protecting thousands of acres of wildlife resources, ensuring fair chase and keeping sportsmen honest year-round. The first were hired in 1901, which was 12 years after Montana officially became a state. As retired warden Mike Mehn wrote in his essay “A Look Back – And Ahead,” the original wardens were instructed to “enforce the law without fear or favor and to do everything in their power to inform and enlighten the people regarding game protection and game laws in Montana.”

Brown is one of 74 game wardens in the state. But as a recent story out of Helena detailed, game wardens are on the verge of becoming endangered species.

Because of low pay in comparison to other enforcement agencies and erratic work hours, the already low number of game wardens has continued to shrink, according to a story by Eve Byron of the Helena Independent Record. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is currently short six wardens as hunting season begins.

Brown agreed with the story’s assessment of the current field of game wardens. Low pay, long hours, a huge area of responsibility — being a game warden is not an easy vocation, he said.

“I just put in the hours and it’s something I love to do, so I don’t mind. I didn’t get into this field to get rich. If I can make a living I’m satisfied,” Brown said. “But our numbers are going down because the other law enforcement agencies are paying more. So we get young guys that get a start and say, ‘Hey, I can work for the highway patrol and make more money and I don’t have to be on call 24 hours a day.’”

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Perry Brown, a Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden based in Columbia Falls, takes a picture of climbing spikes screwed into a tree into leading to a deer stand west of Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Montana is also one of the lowest-paying states, which leads to wardens moving away, Brown said.

Born in Kalispell and raised in Libby, Brown, 45, covers an area that stretches from the Flathead River to the Continental Divide, then from Glacier National Park south around Hungry Horse Reservoir to the Bob Marshall and Great Bear wildernesses. It’s a lot of territory for one man, and it’s the same for other wardens across the state.

“When we’re full-staffed, we’re still understaffed,” Brown said.

Just last week, Brown returned from a week in the Bob Marshall, where he traveled with pack horses and checked on hunters.

General deer and elk rifle season begins Oct. 22, when the majority of hunters across the state head into the woods. Brown has prepared himself for long days.

“My wife’s understanding,” Brown said. “I’ll get word back that I’m not going to be home tonight or I’m going to be late.”

Trespassing and poaching are two of the biggest infractions Brown confronts during hunting season, he said. Last month, in a high-profile poaching incident, eight deer were found shot and some had their heads removed outside of Whitefish.

“There’s a number of people that are trying to cheat the system. I guess that’s why we’re out there,” Brown said.

A major resource for game wardens is the 1-800-TIP-MONT phone line. Created in 1985, the phone line allows callers to remain anonymous and helps wardens catch poachers. The phone line receives roughly 1,700-2,000 tips a year, according to FWP.

“We can’t be everywhere, so we really rely on the sportsmen’s eyes and ears to help us out,” Brown said. “We’re all in it together to help preserve and conserve the fish and wildlife resource. I like to think they have as much at stake as I do.”

Brown said poaching seems to be decreasing slightly every year because the “sporting public are less tolerant of people shooting things. It used to be kind of a way of life; people would shoot a deer to live off of and the neighbors would look the other way.”

Brown was a warden trainee in Bozeman in 1983 straight out of college. After a couple of years, he transferred to Chinook where he became the district game warden. In 1993, Brown had the opportunity to return home and he took it, transferring again to the Flathead Valley to work in Columbia Falls.

In 1996, Brown earned the state’s top honor for game wardens, the Shikar-Safari Club International's Wildlife Officer of the Year for Montana. The award cited, among other important attributes, Brown’s backcountry enforcement skills, his rapport with sportsmen, his extensive involvement with the local hunter’s education courses and his efforts to protect native bull trout as key reasons for honoring him.

In recent years, Brown has become certified in flying planes and helicopters and has been a firearms and hand-to-hand combat instructor.

“I love doing what I’m doing. And I’m always looking at myself and ways to advance,” he said.

Brown inspected a ladder of spikes climbing up a tree. The metal footholds lined up the trunk to a tree stand that looked fresh out of the package. Across the meadow, another older one sat dormant.

There were no signs of recent kills, but Brown was certain of one thing.

“Somebody’s trying to cheat the system,” he said.

Later that night, Brown would eat a quick dinner at home with his family before going to Columbia Falls High School to help teach the fall hunter’s education course. His focus for the class would be teaching young hunters fair chase, the cornerstone of hunting ethics.

But first he took a few pictures of the bait site and wrote down notes before preparing to hike back out to his truck.

“It just looks like somebody’s had a baiting station here for awhile,” he said. “I can tell by the use it’s been going on for awhile. And they’ll be re-baiting that. They’ll be back.”

And so will Brown.

 

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Measuring Hunter Success

05 Dec

Measuring Hunter Success – MFWP

Friday, December 04, 2009
Hunting
With Montana’s five-week big game hunting season in the rear-view mirror, thousands of hunters are sharing hunting stories.

If you don’t hunt, you might be surprised at how many of these stories are about other hunters, the nongame species hunters see, and the outdoors in general. For many hunters, the culture and experiences surrounding the hunt are as important as filling the freezer.

Here are a few of the stories hunters at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks had to share.

“Though many hunters these days use high-tech equipment, fancy camo-colored OHV’s, and the latest in tree stands, I guess I’m an old-school hunter,” said Mike Mehn, FWP law enforcement training officer in Helena, who recalled a visit with a seasoned hunter.

“I relish the memory of a lone hunter hiking slowly out of a drainage on the Blacktail WMA near Dillon, wearing wool hunting pants and carrying a well-worn rifle with an old scope,” said Mike Mehn, who was a field warden at that time. “He said he was 82 and still loved to hunt.

“I asked if he had served in the military and was honored to discover I was meeting a World War II veteran,” Mehn said.

“I thanked him for his service, gave him some suggestions on where to look for elk, and shook his hand before he drove off,” Mehn said. “I never saw that hunter again, but often wonder if he connected on what could have been his last elk. I hope that old hunting rifle is now in the hands of one of his grandchildren.”

Brian Marotz, FWP fisheries mitigation coordinator in Kalispell, likes to remember when he became the “prey” while hunting in snow too crusty to successfully stalk game.

“I sat motionless, lis tening for movement. Every stick that poked through the snow was surrounded by a melted opening,” Marotz said. “Suddenly, a tiny white weasel face poked up a dozen feet away, whiskers trembling with excitement. He seemed to be considering how to drag this hapless interloper’s carcass into its ermine lair. In a flash of white he leapt onto my boot, then second thoughts sent him scurrying for the nearest melt hole. Yet again the ermine tried for his prize, only this time he landed on my knee.

“That instant of eye contact between the shuddering predator and ungainly prey was my trophy that day,” Marotz said. “A herd of elk could have passed by that very moment and I would not have noticed.”

Jon Obst, FWP’s warden sergeant in Kalispell, said a recent job change and move from Libby meant his carefully acquired hunting gear was in storage during this year’s antelope season.

“Last year we prepared for my son’s first hunting season, packing a lot of new gear, knives, game cart, and a chuck box with camp utensils. We even bought new ghost camo pants in prairie colors,” Obst said. “This year, with all that gear in storage, we faced going back to hunting basics.

“We sighted our rifles in on rocks and made some decent long shots. We stalked in nothing more than jeans and work jackets, and I taught Andrew how to cut up the antelope to pack it out over our shoulders—no need for a game cart,” he said. “We saw antelope everyday, met the nicest landowners, hunted birds in the afternoon, and observed a badger and the dance of sharp-tailed grouse. We had an unforgettable time, and we got our antelope too.”

As many hunters will attest, that is hunting success.

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Great Falls Tribune – 3/12/09

MONTANA LOSING WARDENS

The choice was a tough one for game warden Jason Snyder and his wife, Lori, but in the end, the $20,000 salary increase won them over. The Snyders moved to Moses Lake, Wash., and Montana lost another experienced game warden.

Snyder, who began his warden career with Fish, Wildlife & Parks in 1999 with an assignment to Colstrip, is one of eight trained officers who have left FWP since 2007 because of better salaries. In the past decade, 21 wardens have gone to other jobs for better pay.

Jim Kropp, head of law enforcement for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, said the trend has been going on "for several years.  "We have been hiring our tails off to get fully staffed," he said. "In 2005 we received a vacancy savings exemption, which means we could be fully funded and keep all of our districts full. We have been running two hiring processes a year to keep people on the ground and we have not been able to do that."

FWP has the authority for 74 field wardens, six regional investigators and three covert investigators. That does not include sergeants and warden captains.  "The investigators and the management haven't been the problem," Kropp said. "It's mostly been at the field level that we have the problems."

Kropp says the situation is hurting enforcement of Montana's fish and game laws because hiring and training keeps some wardens out of the field doing the work they need to do.

"The sportsmen that are paying for all of this are continuing to pay for the same training over and over every time we loose an employee that we have trained," he said.

Bryan Golie, president of the Montana Game Wardens Association, says that when he applied for his first job as a game warden, he was among 300-some applicants.

"We are seeing a real change in what people want to do. They say, 'I don't like the government because we don't have shifts.' But this is a lifestyle," Golie said.

"We have a guy in Glasgow who applied for a job in Lewistown and got it but he can't move because he can't afford to buy a house there. We haven't had a game warden in Lewistown for almost a year," Golie said. "Think about the resources around that area and what is happening to them without a game warden there."

Golie said Montana game wardens are a proud group but they want to be able to live well, too.

"We are very proud to be game wardens and to represent the state of Montana. But we want to be able to raise a family and not worry about them. We don't work shifts, we live in remote parts of state and we are counted on by so many different entities," he said.

"There are people asking 'why would I do this if I can get paid more as a security guard at the University of Montana?' We are not able to recruit the personnel. We are down seven game warden positions. We cannot get out of the hole. The people are either not qualified or they don't want to do the job."

 

AMONG LOWEST PAID

The pay for an entry-level game warden in Montana currently is $16.72 per hour or $36,670 per year.

Rookies with the Great Falls Police Department earn a base salary of $38,844, according to Lt. Bryan Lockerby, and after one year of probation, they earn $40,494.

The Missoula Police Department pays $21.17 per hour or $4.45 per hour more than Montana pays its new game wardens. Kropp says he expects to lose a Missoula-based game warden who recently interviewed with the city of Missoula.

The Montana Highway Patrol pays $18.74 per hour at entry, but they have a good progression market after the first year. Even security police at the University of Montana begin working at $19.71 per hour and then $22.34 after the first year.

The turnover also means that the game warden force is relatively inexperienced. Of Montana's 73 field wardens, half have less than five years of experience. But Kropp says that can be good.

"Despite the fact that we have lost several senior officers, it's not all bad. We essentially have a young, motivated game warden workforce," Kropp said. "We're learning together and making some mistakes but, they are energetic and enthusiastic, so it's contagious and helpful to us older guys!

"It's not all about money but a good share of it is in terms of retention and recruitment. We have been recruiting heavily across Montana and nationwide and we are not finding anywhere near the number of qualified applicants that we used to. In part that has to do with pay," Kropp said.

"A good 15 to 20 years ago Montana wardens were among highest paid peace officers in state. It is one of the only agencies in the state that requires a college degree to do law enforcement work and right now our wardens are among the lowest paid in the state," he said.

Working relationships with hunters, landowners and the communities where they are stationed also deteriorate, according to Kropp, and he said "the resource pays the cost for not having somebody present.

"It really stretches our work force thin in that we already heave large geographic areas to cover and when a neighboring game warden's district is vacant and somebody has to cover two districts and that cuts into effectiveness."

 

ALMOST EVERYTHING

Snyder said that Montana had everything he and his wife wanted for their young family but they were unable to get ahead.

"It was very largely a financial decision," Snyder said. Washington State was able to pay him $10 an hour more and the cost of living in Moses Lake is the same or slightly less than in Great Falls.

"It just came down to the big thing my wife kept going back to and that was how hard we had to work to get by," Snyder said.

"It was very hard," said Lori Snyder of deciding to move. "My parents are in Cascade, two brothers and a sister are in Cascade and a sister is in Bozeman and their kids and everything. Having graduated from Cascade we have a lot of friends in that area. I went to college in Northern so it was a long decision-making process. However we needed to take care of the five us; this was going to be the best decision for us because opportunity for my husband to continue to do what he loves and eventually perhaps send our three daughters to college.

"We were making it and living in a place that was beautiful and had all the things we wanted. However, we needed to make decisions for the future," she said.

It helped that Snyder grew up in Washington State and he still has family there.

"That played a little in that I knew what I was getting into," Snyder said. "We have some good friends not far away. I went to Washington State University and have friends not far away and brother in Spokane. That was an influence. There were some other states that pay well too but they were not considered an option. Colorado pays well but we don't have any family there. That family aspect was very big. Wife's family was all in Cascade.

"But I would have still considered it even if family wasn't there," he said. "It was the opportunity. We considered Oregon also. They have some differences in structure, through state police. I wasn't quite comfortable with how they were organized. I wasn't sure that was going to be a real good fit.

"The epiphany I finally had was this: We moved to Montana in 1998. I am passionate about hunting and fishing I love to do it and that was a huge part of reason why moved. Over the years, I got to do less and less and less; part of it was due time and part of it was due to money. I would have to plan four weeks in advance to have enough budgeted so I could take my daughter fishing. All the things we moved here for, we were not getting to partake in those. From that aspect it started to make a lot more sense. It was not so far-fetched to look at living somewhere else.

"There are plenty of other guys that work for FWP that are in the exact same situation," Snyder said. "We have talked and the common theme is, we are just treading water, just getting by from day to day. I had to look at things like that we are not saving a dime to think of kids going to college. We weren't putting any thing away for savings or at least, not much."

Kevin Arnold decided in the fifth grade that he wanted to be a FWP game warden and from then on he worked to make that dream happen; he was a FWP game warden in the Paradise Valley.

But a year ago, with less than three years of experience, Arnold took a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a backcountry ranger in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It was a perfect job for Arnold, who is single, and also grew up on a ranch in Montana.

"(Pay) was one of the reasons — probably the biggest reason," Arnold said. "But hands down, it was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life.

"I was stationed in Park County, probably the best warden district there is. There is year-around stuff there from hunting to late season elk hunts, wolf issues, grizzly bears and a lot of backcountry work. You have the Yellowstone River always full of trout fishermen.

Arnold said the big pay difference between FWP and the Forest Service hinges more on overtime. As a FWP warden, he was allowed up to 80 hours of overtime per year. With the Forest Service, he has the opportunity to work longer hours and get paid for them.

According to the federal government salary table, a third year Forest Service law enforcement officer would make about $#46,625 or about the same as a 20-year veteran with Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

"I was born and raised in Montana and I came from a ranching family. You don't get into this job for the money," Arnold said. "But there was a point in my life, I had to decide ... It wasn't to make a lot more money but living in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, the cost of living was astronomical."

Snyder makes it clear that he respects Montana and the FWP law enforcement community.

"I worked with some tremendous people. Despite the money it was a very difficult decision. I agonized over it, making sure it was the right thing to do. Not everything is about money. That was in the back of my mind. I worked with some excellent people. I think this department and law enforcement here have very high standards.

"A game warden with FWP has full police authority so the scope of jurisdiction is quite a lot broader. They are a nationally recognized law enforcement agency. That speaks volumes to the quality of people in Montana," Snyder said.

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brekke

Bob Brekke, winner of the Zabel print given away at the Stockgrowers Convention in Billings. Presented by Jen Williams, warden in Bozeman.

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