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Meet Texas Game Warden Lance Lindley

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Lance Lindley grew up in the Panhandle town of Shamrock and lived across the street from a Texas Game Warden. He idolized him. Lindley loves to hunt and fish and spent lots of time growing up on Lake Meredith, where he was envious of the game wardens doing water safety patrols.

“I thought it would be so awesome to get paid to do that, but everyone told me it was impossible to get into the Game Warden Academy, so I didn’t even try when I graduated from college,” said Lindley.

Armed with a biology degree from West Texas A&M, Lindley landed a job with an environmental services company in Austin. He did that for a couple of years, and decided it was not the career path he wanted to pursue.

It took him two tries, but with the encouragement of the very game warden and family neighbor who first inspired his interest in the field, he made it into the Texas Game Warden Academy in 2005. His first duty station was Pecos County near Fort Stockton, where he served for three years. Wanting to get closer to home, he transferred to cover Hutchinson and Carson counties near Amarillo, where he’s been ever since.

“I love being a Texas Game Warden. The freedom of the job is probably the best thing about it. We work our own schedule, when we think it’s most important to be out there. And of course, being outdoors is a great perk, too.”

Texas Game Wardens are deeply connected to their communities, and many, like Lindley, choose to go back to their home ground. They get to know civic and business leaders, along with the landowners whose ranches they patrol.

Lindley got to know the plant manager of the Phillips 66 refinery in Borger at volleyball games where both their daughters played. The manager invited local law enforcement agencies for a plant tour, and he asked them to let him know if they ever needed any equipment, because Phillips 66 would like to support them.

As it turns out, Lindley had just been issued a new boat, but there weren’t enough funds to fully equip it. Phillips 66 stepped up with a donation through Gear Up for Game Wardens, and the boat was outfitted with the needed gear, including a side-scan sonar.

Gear Up for Game Wardens is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation program that provides specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens through private donations. The following year, Phillips 66 stepped up again to purchase a thermal drone for Amarillo-area game wardens, which has been used numerous times since for search and rescue missions.

This year, Phillips 66 donated $30,000 through Gear Up for a brand-new climate-controlled UTV.

“We spend a lot of time patrolling in rough and dusty areas, like the Canadian River off-road areas, in the dead of winter and the blazing heat of the summer,” said Lindley. “We are so grateful to Phillips 66 and Gear Up for Game Wardens for providing this equipment that will allow us to do our jobs more safely and effectively.”

Cooking up a Fundraiser for Gear Up for Game Wardens

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Stephanie and Jerel Wottrich love crawfish. In fact, at a recent special event held at their ranch in Driftwood, together with the Safari Club International (SCI) Austin cook team, they boiled up 1,000 pounds of the tasty crustaceans, accompanied by gallons of gumbo, 600 venison sausages, 18 smoked turkeys, and a whole roasted pig.

The event drew hundreds of hungry people, all for a good cause. Proceeds from the annual event benefit Gear Up for Game Wardens, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation program that raises private funds for specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens.

Stephanie and Jerel love to hunt and fish, and they are active members in Safari Club International. Jerel serves as president for SCI’s Austin chapter, and Stephanie is vice-president. Stephanie also serves as the regional rep for four chapters in Texas.

They’ve been doing a crawfish boil for several years now, and, in 2018, decided to make the event an SCI-Austin chapter fundraiser for the Gear Up program.

“We’ve always wanted to give back to the game wardens who do so much to conserve the natural resources of Texas,” said Stephanie. “When we learned about Gear Up, we decided it was a perfect fit. We want to help Texas Game Wardens get the specialty equipment they need, and we also want to expose more people to all that game wardens do to protect the wildlife and the people of our state.”

Besides delicious food, the all-day event featured family-friendly activities, including live music, a falconry demonstration, and much more. Texas Game Wardens were also on hand to educate folks about what they do and how they use specialty equipment in their day-to-day jobs.

“A lot of people just don’t know all that Texas Game Wardens do,” said Stephanie. “Besides enforcing hunting and fishing laws, game wardens play a huge role in swift water rescue during natural disasters and rescuing people who get lost or injured.”

Last year’s event raised $20,000, which went toward purchasing a swift water rescue boat. This year, the event raised $24,000, which funded two search and rescue thermal drones.

Thermal drones can make the difference between life and death in a rescue situation. Just one example is the 2019 rescue of an elderly man suffering from dementia and mobility issues who wandered off on a cold winter day in Montague County. Texas Game Wardens were called in, and they utilized a thermal drone to help find him in heavy brush. The heat signature generated by his body heat enabled rescuers to quickly hone in on his exact location and get him home safely.

“These specialty tools like thermal drones will generally be utilized when somebody is having their absolute worst day,” said Texas Game Warden Major Jim Ranft. “We are so grateful to have the support within the community to provide these tools that help save lives. It’s a reflection of the fine people that are members of the Austin SCI chapter and their support of protecting not only the resources, but the public and law enforcement.”

Plans are already in the works for next year’s event, which will be held Saturday, April 1, 2023.

“This started out as a little crawfish boil for some of our friends,” said Jerel. “It’s grown every year since we made it a fundraiser for Gear Up for Game Wardens. It just keeps getting bigger and better, and we are proud to support our Texas Game Wardens.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Calvin Harbaugh

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Calvin Harbaugh has been a Texas Game Warden for decades. Like most game wardens, he is an avid hunter and angler who loves spending time outdoors.

He was introduced to hunting and fishing by family members when he was very young. A close relative took him fishing when he was but a toddler, and he got his first BB gun at age eight. Soon after, he was introduced to hunting by the same treasured mentor.

“My Aunt Helen just loved all things outdoors, and I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with her growing up,” said Harbaugh. “We spent a lot of time together in a deer blind on a hunting lease south of San Antonio. I shot my first deer with her, when I was 11 years old.”

In fact, the first time Harbaugh encountered a Texas Game Warden, he was in a hunting blind with his aunt, Helen Palmer. The game warden had seen the ranch gate open and was checking to make sure everything was all right.

Photo by Jonathan Vail

While Harbaugh remembers meeting that game warden, he didn’t exactly have a career epiphany at the time. When he graduated high school, he headed to Texas A&M with an initial interest in becoming a wildlife biologist.

“I started out in wildlife and fishery science, but I did not do so well in the chemistry classes,” he recalled with a laugh. “I changed majors and graduated with a rangeland ecology and management degree instead.”

After college, as he explored career options, he had another encounter with a Texas Game Warden, whom he met in a San Antonio field office for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“I wanted to see if I could learn more about becoming a game warden and met a man named John Caudle,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was the regional director over all the game wardens in that part of the state. I just thought he was an older game warden who got stuck in the office. It was after meeting him that I realized that I definitely wanted to be a game warden.”

After that, Harbaugh did a couple of ride-alongs with Texas Game Wardens. He applied to the Texas Game Warden Academy, got in on his first try, and after close to 30 years as a field game warden, he’s now one of the old guys. But he’s definitely not stuck in the office.

“I think what I like most about being a Texas Game Warden is the freedom of the job and that I am outdoors pretty much every day,” said Harbaugh. “There’s something different every day, and I really enjoy serving the public. I have been really fortunate to get into something that gives me purpose and that I have so thoroughly enjoyed these many years.”

Hurricane Harvey / Photo by Earl Nottingham

Harbaugh started his career on the coast and moved inland soon after. Now he’s stationed in Fayette County near La Grange and has been there for more than 16 years. He’s a seasoned airboat operator and has been in just about every situation known to a game warden, including search and rescue operations for Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“We were all over Houston in the days following the storm, and I couldn’t tell you how many people we moved out of harm’s way,” he said. “We were just doing our job, helping and protecting people, which is what game wardens do.”

Harbaugh was also among the Texas Game Wardens who came to the aid of Louisiana residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The equipment used by Texas Game Wardens in situations like Harvey or Katrina can mean the difference between life or death for both game wardens and the people they are charged with serving.

Hurricane Katrina / Photo by Earl Nottingham

Providing up-to-date equipment for the 550 Texas Game Wardens scattered across the state is a constant challenge for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. While the state provides the basic tools game wardens need, there’s an additional need for specialized equipment. That’s why Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the state agency’s official nonprofit partner, launched Gear Up for Game Wardens in 2017. Through private donations, Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas.

Texas Game Warden Calvin Harbaugh with Randy Fowler / Photo by Jonathan Vail

In late 2021, Calvin Harbaugh took possession of a brand-new Patriot airboat outfitted for the rigors of game warden work. Funding to purchase the airboat was donated through Gear Up for Game Wardens by Ann and Randy Fowler in memory of Dan Duncan.

“It’s hard for me to put into words how grateful we are to receive this gift,” said Harbaugh. “We use an airboat all the time for our regular patrol duties like checking duck hunters or fishermen on the river. But we also use it during search and rescue operations, and it will no doubt be used for the next hurricane that hits Texas. Having the latest equipment helps ensure we can do our jobs safely and effectively for the people of Texas.”

Gear Up for Game Wardens Hits $2 Million Milestone

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2021
Media contact: Lydia Saldaña
817.851.5729
lsaldana@tpwf.org

Gear Up for Game Wardens Hits $2 Million Milestone
Recent Beaumont Benefit Raises More than $100,000

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program has reached a $2 million fundraising milestone, thanks to a recent fundraiser in Beaumont that brought in more than $100,000.

Through private donations, Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional specialized equipment.

“I’ve been amazed at the generosity and the compassion of our donors,” said Randy Risher, who is chair of the Gear Up for Game Wardens Leadership Council, and also serves as a trustee on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s board of directors. “The recent Beaumont fundraiser coordinated by the Saltwater Anglers League of Texas and Courville’s Catering & Events exemplifies the spirit of giving to Texas Game Wardens who stand ready to serve the people of Texas every single day.”

Since the program launched in October 2017, more than 1,300 donations have been made, for a total of just over $2 million raised. Specialty gear has been purchased and deployed across all eight game warden regions in Texas and the statewide Special Operations Unit. This new equipment provided by the program, and now being used by Texas Game Wardens, includes search and rescue (SAR) drones, SAR inflatable boats, side-scan sonar units, water rescue dry suits, night vision and thermal imaging units, ATVs, UTVs and specialized K-9 units.

The program launched in October 2017 after a group of dedicated individuals, including Risher, approached Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) with an idea of how they might support the efforts of Texas Game Wardens. TPWF is the official nonprofit partner of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Discussions continued, a leadership committee was formed and a website, gearupforgamewardens.org, was launched to facilitate donations. Regional citizen committees fuel the effort, and fundraisers have been held across the state to support the effort.

In late May, Saltwater Anglers League of Texas and Courville’s Catering and Events staged the third annual fundraiser to benefit Gear Up for Game Wardens. The event raised more than $100,000 through donations and unique auction items, and the funds will be used to purchase specialty equipment for game wardens in the Beaumont area, including a thermal drone and flight accessories. The funds were presented to Texas Game Wardens at the most recent S.A.L.T. board meeting on July 6.

“I first heard about Gear Up for Game Wardens when one of our local game wardens couldn’t access a plane crash to make a rescue because they didn’t have the right piece of equipment to get to it,” said Rich Courville. “Luckily someone came by with a Polaris, and the game wardens were able to make the rescue. I wondered why the game wardens didn’t have that piece of equipment, and when I found out about Gear Up for Game Wardens, I wanted to help.”

The Saltwater Anglers League of Texas (S.A.L.T) is the oldest saltwater fishing club in Texas, and since 1968 has been supporting a variety of causes, including getting more children involved in the outdoors. Supporting Gear Up for Game Wardens was an easy ask.

“We’re a conservation club, and Texas Game Wardens protect the resources we love,” said S.A.L.T. Board Treasurer Roger Bertrand. “If we can help them do their jobs better, then it helps our organization and everyone who loves to fish in the coastal waters of Texas.”

Donations have come from all corners of the state and in all amounts, from $5 to more than $70,000. Since 2019, S.A.L.T. has donated more than $230,000 to Gear Up for Game Wardens and anticipates doing another fundraiser next year. The Sabine River Authority has also stepped up in appreciation of what Texas Game Wardens do for the people of Texas and has donated $120,000 to the program. In addition, co-chairs of the leadership council have staged fundraisers all over the state to fund equipment for game wardens in their local regions.

“The local committees are what make the program successful, and 100 percent of every donation received for equipment goes directly to purchase the specialty gear that our Texas Game Wardens need,” said Gear Up for Game Wardens Program Manager Austin Taylor. “It is amazing to be able to take the donations that we receive and quickly purchase equipment that is distributed across the state.  Knowing that our Texas Game Wardens have the tools they need to make their jobs more efficient and safer is all that matters.”

Texas Game Wardens have watched over the lands, waters, wildlife and people of Texas for more than 100 years.  Every year, Texas Game Wardens patrol over 10 million miles by vehicle and 130,000 hours by boat, facing challenges as unique as the 254 counties they serve. To find out more about the program, or to make a donation, go to GearUpForGameWardens.org

“The support we have received through Gear Up for Game Wardens is incredible,” said Col. Chad Jones, who heads the Law Enforcement Division at TPWD. “We are so grateful knowing that the people of Texas appreciate what our game wardens do every single day.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation raises private funds to advance Texas’ proud outdoor traditions and conserve our state’s wildlife, habitat, recreational areas, and natural resources. Since 1991, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has invested more than $215 million in efforts to ensure that all Texans, today and in the future, can enjoy the wild things and wild places of Texas.

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Gear Up for Game Wardens Equipment Plays Critical Role in Turtle Rescues

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Texas Game Wardens were on the frontlines of the herculean effort to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles up and down the coast during the February deep freeze that engulfed the state.

According to the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN), more than 12,000 turtles were affected. That number is triple the number rescued during the winter of 2017-2018, which had been the largest cold stunning event since STSSN was established in 1980.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) personnel joined hundreds of others who pitched in to help.

“We knew it was coming and we were ready,” said Texas Game Warden Major Ellis Powell, who heads Region 8, which includes the lower Texas Coast. “It was all hands on deck. We worked shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in the Coastal Fisheries Division. There were a lot of cold hands and cold fingers, but we all knew it was coming and we were as ready as we could be.”

Texas Game Wardens had access to some equipment this time that they haven’t had in the past. Two specially rigged airboat trailers and a Utility Terrain Vehicle provided through Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s (TPWF) Gear Up for Game Wardens program were critical elements of the Texas Game Warden response.

“We were able to move airboats around easily and for that reason, we got to a lot more turtles than we would have otherwise,” said Texas Game Warden Captain Ben Baker. “Thanks to the coordinated effort from many other organizations, we were able to pull to shore when the airboat was full with about 40 sea turtles, where we would hand them off to others for transport to warming centers. Then we would turn right back around to pick up more.”

It was tough work in extreme conditions. Once a stunned turtle was spotted in the water, Texas Game Wardens waded through freezing water to pull the heavy turtles into the boat. They repeated the process hundreds of times. Texas Game Wardens also patrolled hard-to-reach areas onshore with a UTV, also provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“We found a lot of turtles on the shoreline that we could just pick up in the UTV,” said Baker. “The UTV also allowed us to transport rescued turtles from areas that conventional vehicles couldn’t reach, and that allowed much quicker transport to the warming centers.”

For Captain Baker and the men and women he serves with, the work is deeply satisfying.

“Texas Game Wardens do what we do because we love the resource,” said Baker. “It’s an opportunity for us to give back in a hands-on kind of way.  It gets us out of the law enforcement realm to focus on direct conservation. We know that if we weren’t out there along with all the others who helped, a lot of these turtles wouldn’t have made it.”

Baker and Powell are grateful to the generous donors who contributed to TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program to make the specialty equipment possible. TPWD game wardens and coastal fisheries staff rescued more than one thousand turtles, and Major Powell estimates the number would have been half that without the equipment provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“You can solve a lot of problems with money and people, but that’s a finite number,” said Powell. “To have the citizens of the state of Texas step up and get behind our game wardens to provide these specialty tools we wouldn’t otherwise have is wonderful. Whether it’s search and rescue of people or search and rescue of turtles, this equipment is making a big difference in how we can meet our mission.”

Stroke of fate: Child rescued by Texas game warden on Lavaca Bay

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By: Matt Wyatt July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020 5:44 p.m.

 

Texas game warden Ben Bailey rescued a child who had been swept from shore in Lavaca Bay last week.

Ben Bailey was on his way to take his boat out of the water when he got the call.

The Texas game warden changed course with haste. Someone was in trouble.

He thought he was responding to an adult in distress, swept away from shore. He knew he had to get there quickly. The waves from passing vessels can prove deadly on an open Lavaca Bay.

“The wake from those ships can be as tall as a person,” Bailey said.

When he arrived on scene, the game warden was surprised to find an inner tube wrapped around a 6-year-old girl, 1,200 yards from shore and in the middle of the Matagorda ship channel.

She was crying heavily when he arrived, but Bailey noted it was fortunate that she smartly remained in her tube. Bailey gently pulled his boat up next to the little girl and hoisted her aboard.

She immediately embraced him.

Bailey returned the child to her grandmother where they had been swimming near Magnolia Beach. His work was done.

The rescue was a stroke of fate.

Water safety, patrols and rescues are a significant part of Bailey’s work life as a game warden in coastal Calhoun County.

However, it is up to individual discretion whether the warden patrols that community by truck or boat on a day-by-day basis.

The rescued little girl can thank her lucky stars that Bailey decided to go with his boat last Tuesday.

“It was by chance that I decided to go out on the water that day. And I’m glad I did because there weren’t any other boats out there to get her,” Bailey said.

Bailey said that with the busy Fourth of July weekend in the rearview, the bay was empty of anyone who could have assisted the stranded child. The Texas game warden was perhaps her only hope.

The incident serves as a reminder of the constant preparation and vigilance required of water safety.

Bailey, 35, said he and his wife Chelsea, who is also a game warden in Calhoun County, keep their kids in life jackets while on the beach.

“It only takes a second for something to happen,” said Bailey, who’s been a game warden for 10 years.

“That current and wind will push a float faster than you can swim. A lot of times we have boats get away from people, they’ll swim after them and they’ll end up drowning. Stuff gets carried out pretty quick.”

Game wardens have had a busy summer so far patrolling Texas waters.

Wardens carried out water safety checks on over 11,000 vessels and arrested 42 people for operating a boat while intoxicated on July 4 weekend.

Officers across the state were also involved in several water-related rescues over the holiday weekend.

Game wardens picked up three people whose boat had washed ashore on San Jose Island in Aransas County. Wardens brought to safety two people who were clinging to a kneeboard after their boat capsized on Lake Travis. A swamped kayaker was rescued, and a lost child was found on Lake Alan Henry.

Over that weekend, game wardens also investigated 21 boat accidents, three boating-related deaths and seven open-water drownings.

Water rescues are something game wardens are accustomed to as part of the job description. Game wardens usually are involved in over a thousand water-related rescues a year. Last year they made 1,097 water rescues. In 2017, wardens made 3,775, and the numbers do not include disaster events like Hurricane Harvey.

Water rescues are a constant part of a game warden’s education. In preparation for hurricane season, game wardens will be holding swiftwater search and rescue training on Lake Bridgeport this Wednesday.

For Bailey, saving someone on the water is just another day at the office for “the best job in Texas.” He recalls his tale of rescue with the measured humility so typical of many Texas game wardens.

His occupation is a calling he wanted to answer since he was young.

Bailey was born and raised in Louisiana but frequented the area where he now works as a child. His grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who flew B-52s on training missions to bomb Matagorda Island. They would hunt and fish a lot in the area, and it’s where he had his first run-ins with Texas game wardens.

“I remember interacting with Texas game wardens when I was young and it just left an impression on me, the way they carried themselves and how they talked. They were polite, professional,” Bailey said.

Now, he is who he once aspired to be. He does not seek recognition for the rescue he made last week, he said he’s only relieved that the situation worked out for the best. Often, it does not.

“I’m just glad it was a rescue and not a recovery,” he said.

Houston Chronicle article: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/general/article/Texas-game-warden-Ben-Bailey-rescues-child-Lavaca-15404985.php

Generous Donations Provide Critically Needed Equipment

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Thanks to some recent generous donations, Texas Game Wardens near Corpus Christi now have access to some critically needed specialty equipment that will allow them to perform their duties more efficiently and effectively.

The Texas Brush Country Safari Club International (SCI) Chapter and the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA) provided $15,000 in funding to purchase a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) for Corpus Christi area game wardens.

“The Brush Country Chapter of SCI was happy to partner with our friends at SEA to help out our local Texas Game Wardens, said Jeff Sizemore, President/Treasurer of the Texas Brush Country SCI Chapter. “We know how important their role is in the Lone Star State and we’re eager to help once again via Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program.”

The UTV will be used by game wardens for conservation law enforcement, public safety and emergency response.

“We’ll be using the new UTV in many different ways,” explained Texas Game Warden Lerrin Johnson, who is stationed in San Patricio County. “We will be patrolling the beaches and checking fishermen. We also protect the endangered sea turtles that come in to nest along the shoreline. Later on, during hunting season, we’ll be patrolling ranches and checking in with hunters.”

A Gear Up for Game Wardens presentation at the January meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) Board of Trustees meeting led to a $12,000 donation from ExxonMobil for some critically needed gear. ExxonMobil’s Samantha Omey encouraged her company’s donation after hearing the update which led to funding the replacement of two needed airboat trailers on the coast that were out of commission due to aging and rust. Without the new trailers provided by ExxonMobil’s donation, the airboats would not be in service today.

“We appreciate what Texas Game Wardens do to protect our natural resources on the coast,” said Samantha Omey, Southwest Government Relations Manager for ExxonMobil, a long-time corporate partner. “These airboats help our game wardens get the job done, especially all the extra work and hours these folks put in during crises like hurricanes. Texas Game Wardens always go the extra mile.”

Texas Game Wardens on the front lines of conservation law enforcement and emergency response sincerely appreciate the support.

“We are immensely grateful for the generosity of Texas individuals, companies and organizations,” said Johnson. “These donations are providing critically needed equipment that we utilize in the field every day and helps us do our jobs better and safer. I know every game warden out there appreciates Gear Up for Game Wardens.”

San Angelo SCI Chapter Supports Texas Game Wardens

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The San Angelo Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI) is once again proudly supporting Texas Game Wardens in their own back yard. The chapter held its annual fundraiser on Feb. 22 to raise funds for wildlife conservation. The chapter is an ongoing contributor to Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s (TPWF) Gear Up for Game Wardens program.

Most recently the chapter provided funding for a Search and Rescue boat that will be used in the West Texas region in and around San Angelo.

Photographed Left to Right: Jimmy Fontenot, San Angelo SCI Board President, Bob Benson, TPWF Director of Major Gifts, San Angelo SCI Board Member Alan McClain

“The network of Texas SCI chapters are true friends of the Texas Game Wardens,” said Bob Benson, TPWF Director of Major Gifts. “The San Angelo chapter has been there since the beginning proving steadfast support to the Gear Up for Game Wardens program. Thanks to their contributions, our game wardens have received life-saving equipment that is keeping fellow Texans safe.”

This is the sixth annual fundraiser conducted by the San Angelo chapter. SCI raises funds to help wildlife conservation initiatives all over the world. In San Angelo, thousands of dollars have been distributed in the community and surrounding counties to help Texas Game Wardens, 4H and FFA clubs, collegiate shooting sports, youth hunting programs, and an endowed scholarship at Angelo State University for students who are earning natural resource conservation degrees. With the generous contributions of local businesses, ranchers and sportsmen, the San Angelo chapter is making a difference at home and all over the world.

FIND OUT MORE about the San Angelo Chapter of Safari Club International.

Dallas Stewards Gear Up for Game Wardens

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The Dallas chapter of Stewards of the Wild raised more than $27,000 for Gear Up for Game Wardens at a special event in late January. About 200 people attended the fifth annual “State of Conservation” event, which was held at the Dallas Country Club.

WFAA meteorologist and avid outdoorsman Pete Delkus moderated a panel discussion with several North Texas game wardens, who regaled the crowd with stories about their adventures in conservation law enforcement. The audience learned about the many different roles that Texas Game Wardens play, from enforcing game and fish laws to responding to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding events. They also learned about the specialty gear that Texas Game Wardens need to do their job and how Gear Up for Game Wardens is outfitting Texas Game Wardens across the state.

Gear Up for Game Wardens is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) program that provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional equipment.

The more than $27,000 raised will be spent in the North Texas region to purchase critically needed night vision equipment and a handheld thermal unit. The thermal unit helps Texas Game Wardens narrow down the location of a missing person by identifying a heat signature, and the night vision equipment allows them to carry out searches in the dead of night.

Stewards of the Wild Dallas chapter co-chairs Raymond Morrow and Chris Landers helped organize the event, and this is the first time the proceeds from the “State of Conservation” event have been donated to Gear Up. Stewards of the Wild is TPWF’s young professionals organization with chapters scattered across the state. The idea for Stewards of the Wild originated in Dallas, and the Dallas chapter led the way for other chapters to be established.

“We are grateful for the generous donations made by the Dallas Stewards,” said Austin Taylor, TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program manager. “These funds will be deployed immediately to provide the specialty gear North Texas game wardens need to be more effective in the field.”

While the mission of the evening was serious, several of the game wardens seem to have a second calling in comedy. Captain Steve Stapleton had the crowd in stitches as he worked the room, a duck decoy on a line behind him.

“We had to arrest this little guy,” Stapleton deadpanned. “We caught him with quack!”

Local events like this one are key to Gear Up for Game Wardens success. More than $1.2 million have been raised across the state since the program launched in October 2017. There are several upcoming events, including one in Lubbock on April 23 and in an Angelo on June 6.

FIND OUT MORE about Stewards of the Wild.

Texas Game Warden Profile: Ruger

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Rescued from a meth house in Washington state, Ruger might have been destined for a life of crime. But those who found him could see his promise, and after a short stay at an animal shelter, Ruger’s life purpose became clear. He was taken in by the good folks at Pacific Coast K-9 in Washington state and began a rigorous training regimen that would transform him from an undisciplined puppy to a focused crime fighter.

About that same time, leaders in the Law Enforcement Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were researching what it would take to start a K-9 Unit in Texas. With support from Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the first team of five dogs and five game warden handlers began their training in 2013. The dogs were purchased from Pacific Coast K-9. Texas Game Warden Christy Vales was one of those first handlers, and she was paired up with Ruger, a yellow Labrador. Like his fellow K-9s, Ruger is a commissioned peace officer for the State of Texas, an official Texas Game Warden.

“He’s such a happy good dog,” said Christy, who now leads the Texas Game Warden K-9 Unit as its Captain. “It’s almost like he knew that he was rescued from a life of crime. His desire to hunt and find a lost person or track a criminal is so high when we are on a mission, and he loves affection and attention. He’s constantly seeking confirmation that he’s a good dog.”

Christy and Ruger have been on hundreds of missions together, from catching poachers to rescuing lost children, locating firearms used during poaching cases and homicides, and responding to natural disasters. A few years ago, Christy got a call about a poaching case in Milam County. Two male subjects had illegally killed two white-tailed deer at night near a gravel yard and the county game wardens needed some assistance. They had the first man in custody, and they knew the second one was nearby. Once Christy and Ruger arrived on the scene, Ruger got to work.

“Within a few minutes, Ruger picked up his scent and led us right to him,” she said. “He was hiding behind a tractor-trailer in the gravel yard and we quickly apprehended him.”

Another time, Ruger helped rescue four young children under the age of ten who were lost in the woods near Bastrop. It was a bitterly cold February night, and the children had been missing since 5:00 p.m. Christy and Ruger, along with Bastrop County Game Wardens, got the call about midnight. Ruger quickly honed in, and pulled Christy straight to the frightened children at about the same time that sheriff’s deputies provided their location from a cell phone the children used to call 911. The cell phone had no service, but one of the children realized that they could still dial 911 for help.

“The kids were freezing cold and very relieved to see us,” said Christy. “We gave them some blankets to warm them up and some food and water. I gave one of the kids one of Ruger’s toys, and they played with Ruger until we could get them safely home. He helped calm them down, and he’s a great partner to have in the field.”

Ruger has a strong work ethic, and if he could go catch a bad guy or rescue someone in trouble every day, that would be just fine with him.

“He’s nonstop every single day,” said Christy. “If we’re at home and I’m on the computer and my work phone rings, I have to go outside to have the conversation because he will just keep barking and circling, thinking we have a call.”

The Texas Game Warden K-9 unit has grown to nine handlers and dogs who perform missions all over the state. One additional team will be trained in 2020.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has supported the K-9 unit since its inception. In recent years, TPWF has provided gear for the K-9 unit through the Gear Up for Game Warden program, which provides specialty gear for game wardens on two legs and four. Most recently, Gear Up for Game Wardens provided Garmin tactical watches for every K-9 team. The watches sync to equipment on each K-9 officer, and help each handler track the dog’s movements in the field.

“The support we get through Gear Up for Game Wardens has been amazing,” said Christy. “The specialty gear that has been provided to us helps keep our K-9 officers safe so that we can do the best job possible for the people of Texas.”

Find out how you can donate specialty equipment for your Texas Game Wardens: