Get to Know Your Local Wildlife Officer

The present-day wildlife officer does much more than check licenses and enforce regulations. Follow the series to learn more about Colorado's DWMs.
Wildlife officer Scott Murdoch
My name is Scott Murdoch and I am a District Wildlife Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). I work in the Conifer area along U.S. Highway 285 in part of Park and Jefferson counties. This article is the first of a series of articles that will highlight how wildlife is managed in Colorado. 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is the state agency responsible for managing the wildlife that calls Colorado their home. The agency employs aquatic and terrestrial biologists, researchers, property and hatchery technicians, administrators, wildlife officers, investigators, engineers and many others to accomplish the broad mission of conserving and protecting the state’s 960 game and non-game species. 

More than 70 percent of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s wildlife programs to conserve and protect those species are paid for by the license fees from hunters and anglers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not receive general tax dollars to fund its wildlife conservation programs. Each job within Colorado Parks and Wildlife is critical to accomplish the mission; the wildlife officer is one of those jobs that I would like to highlight.

The state is divided up into 131 districts, each filled by a wildlife officer, known as a district wildlife manager (DWM). Many biologists, property technicians and supervisors carry a commission making them wildlife officers as well. The wildlife officer is a Level 1 Peace Officer, carrying the same authority as a state trooper or deputy. While wildlife officers focus on title 33 law (wildlife law), they can and do handle traffic and criminal law when the situation arises. The area along the Highway  285 and I-70 corridor is home to 12 wildlife officers, seven of whom are district wildlife managers (DWM), four are wildlife technicians, and a lone supervisor, covering all of Park County, most of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and Gilpin County.
 
The district wildlife manager position is dynamic and integral in the management of wildlife in the state. The roles of these officers vary from district to district and state to state. The species of wildlife in one area of the state are much different from other parts of the state, so the focus in varying habitats changes. Additionally, human demographics and attitudes shape wildlife management in different districts around the state. The intersection of wildlife, habitats, people and politics is difficult to navigate at times and is one of the things that makes this job so fun. Since states control how most wildlife is managed, there are often different management strategies across state lines depending on priorities.

So What Does a District Wildlife Manager Do?

Wildlife officers
Officers working on a bear denning project.

It depends on where you are in the state. The specifics of what an officer does in Limon varies drastically from one working in Denver or Meeker. There are three generalities of what a district wildlife manager focuses on, law enforcement, biology and customer service/education. 

The law enforcement part of the job is perhaps the most obvious. If you have ever been hunting or fishing, there is a good chance that you have been contacted by the ‘game warden’ and had your license checked. Checking for compliance with hunting and fishing is a big part of what we do. We are fortunate to have high compliance with hunting and fishing laws, however, there are always a few bad apples that are not following the laws. Officers will investigate suspected violations, collect evidence, serve arrest and search warrants, issue citations and assist district attorneys with the prosecution. Generally, the officer who detects the violation will see the case from start to finish. For very large and complex cases, the local officer will often request some assistance from wildlife investigators whose sole focus is those such cases.

Biologists

Mt. Evans Sheep
Mt. Evans Sheep

Much of the public probably does not realize that district wildlife managers are also a biologist. Colorado Parks and Wildlife requires all wildlife officer applicants to have a bachelor’s of science in the field of biology, preferably fisheries and wildlife biology. Much of the biology that the district wildlife managers deal with specifically relates to the management of big game species like deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, sheep, goats, bears and lions. Managers also work extensively with other species like turkeys, waterfowl, upland birds, small mammals and fish. 

In order to have healthy populations, it is important for you to know a number of different metrics. How good is the habitat? You need to know how many animals the landscape can support. How many animals do you have? What is the makeup of the population? The composition, age, sex, size, all influence how that population will change over time. The district wildlife managers work directly with terrestrial and aquatic biologists conducting population counts and classification. There are many methods for doing that work including helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft counts, ground counts, mark and recapture surveys, radio/GPS telemetry, netting and electroshocking of fish just to name a few. One day we are in the air counting sheep and the next we are packing in on horseback to electroshock remote streams.

Address Wildlife Concerns

bear in trash
Bear getting into trash. Photo by DJ Hannigan.

Finally, district wildlife managers act both proactively and reactively to address wildlife concerns the public has. Much of the public does not hunt or fish, but still interacts with wildlife. It is our job to teach the public about wildlife and respond to wildlife conflicts. Much of the teaching that we do is aimed at preventing some of the more common conflicts. Some of the more common conflicts involve species like lions, bears, deer and elk. Large predators like the mountain lion instill fear into many and the thought of one walking through your neighborhood may send chills down your spine. When sighted in a neighborhood or when a deer is killed by a lion in a backyard, we often get that nervous call. Talking the homeowner through the situation or responding in person, will usually put that person at ease, especially if they learn something from that interaction. Bears are notorious for destroying trashcans, birdfeeders, cars and sometimes homes. We respond to those calls; hopefully solving the issues in a community before it is too late for the bear. Deer and elk are often loved or hated, depending on if they are eating your hay, destroying your flowers, or casually strolling through town. 

When people are living in good wildlife habitat, it is inevitable that wildlife will get into interesting predicaments as they navigate an ever-developing landscape.

Therefore, the next time you see wildlife, know that the local wildlife officer is looking after the wildlife that you so cherish.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hiring CPW District Wildlife Managers, applications close May 31, 2021. Learn more about a career as a District Wildlife Manager.

Meet a Wildlife Officer

If you would like to meet your local wildlife officer, please come with questions and share coffee with us on May 15, 2021 at the following times.

  • Conifer: 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Aspen Perk Cafe: 27182 Main St, Conifer, CO 80433
  • Evergreen: 9-10 a.m. at Java Groove: 28186 CO-74 #1, Evergreen, CO 80439
  • Fairplay: 9-10 a.m. at The Java Moose: 730 Main St, Fairplay, CO 80440
  • Black Hawk: 9-10 a.m. at Black Hawk Bean and Cream: 135 Clear Creek St, Blackhawk, CO 80422
  • Idaho Springs: 9-10 am at Two Brothers Deli: 1424 Miner St, Idaho Springs, CO 80452

In the coming weeks, we will look at other aspects of wildlife management in Colorado. If you have any general wildlife questions, please call the Northeast region Colorado Parks and Wildlife office at 303-291-7227.

Poaching is a crime against you, your neighbor, and everyone else in the state of Colorado. Call 1-877-COLO-OGT toll-free or Verizon cell phone users can simply dial #OGT to report it.  If you would prefer, you can e-mail us at game.thief@state.co.us.


Written by Scott Murdoch. Scott is a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

This is the first of six articles written by Officer Murdoch that will be distributed throughout the summer. Each will come out roughly a week in advance from when wildlife officers from Park, Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties host Coffee with Your Game Warden get-togethers, providing the public with an opportunity to meet their local wildlife officer and ask them questions.

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