DNREC Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section celebrates a century of service to the people of Delaware
DOVER (July 13, 2011) – As the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife celebrates its first century of fish and wildlife conservation by reflecting on the past and moving into the future, it is fitting that we revisit the foundation laid 100 years ago of what would become today’s and tomorrow’s modern force of highly specialized enforcement agents.
The story of the Division’s Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section begins in October 1911, when the newly established Delaware Fish and Game Commission hired the state’s first game warden, Fred B. Murphy, at a salary of $60 a month. In 1913, through “competitive examinations conducted along civil service lines,” the first Chief Game Warden, John P. LeFevre, was chosen, along with a number of deputy wardens. The goal, according to the 1914 biennial report from the Board of Game and Fish Commissioners, was “seeking to have in the service only men of highest type who have at heart the conservation of wild life.”
“For 100 years, Delaware’s fish and wildlife agents have acted not only to protect and serve the citizens of Delaware but also our lands, waterways and wildlife. Today, these well-trained, professional men and women continue to play a key role in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s mission to promote and practice environmental stewardship and conservation,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara.
As of 2011, Delaware’s Fish and Wildlife Enforcement agents have grown to a force of 28 men and women who watch over tens of thousands of acres of state-owned wildlife areas, patrolling our coast and waterways and protecting our natural resources by enforcing conservation as well as criminal law. These specially-trained, Delaware State Police Academy graduates are fully equipped with police vehicles and boats, mobile data terminals, night vision goggles, standard police-issue weapons and equipment and even a special decoy deer used to catch nighttime poachers. In a day’s work, they may rescue a hunter stranded on the marsh, stop a boater operating under the influence, check an angler’s catch, call in their canine unit to search for a lost child, or break out their side-scan sonar to locate a vehicle in the water.
“Over the past century, Delaware has grown and changed in ways our early game wardens and marine police couldn’t have imagined. Our Enforcement Section has expanded its training and scope to meet the challenge while continuing their core mission: to ensure compliance with state fish and wildlife regulations, and to educate the public about conservation as well as health and public safety issues such as safe boating, hunter education and more,” said Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Saveikis.
Back in the 1950s, fish and wildlife enforcement was on its way to what it is today. Fishing and hunting licenses and dog control had been established, conservation was becoming a priority, the first managed state wildlife lands had been purchased and, in 1952, the first marine patrol boat was purchased for enforcement work in tidal waters. The 13-warden statewide force was involved in game stocking and fish rearing – work that was later transferred to the Division’s Wildlife and Fisheries sections – in addition to its primary mission of enforcing the state’s game, fish, dog, songbird and certain marine laws.
However, a 1954 report from the Wildlife Management Institute to the Fish and Game Commission notes, “In reality, the wardens devote practically their entire time to the handling of dog complaints, checking on dog licenses, and the investigation of poultry damage or domestic animal damage reported as caused by dogs.”
By the time of the Institute’s 1963 report, the Division of Law Enforcement had two branches – a marine branch and a game warden branch – and the concerns sound more familiar: stopping illegal night hunting, modernizing equipment and increasing the emphasis on information and education.
With the formation of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control under Governor Russell Peterson in 1970, the Game and Fish Commission became part of DNREC as the Division of Fish and Wildlife. In 1971, dog control was contracted out and George Stewart became Delaware’s first Boating Law and Enforcement Administrator under a new federal boating safety program that would form the roots of the present Office of Boating Safety. In 1988, something the Institute had long since recommended came to be: the marine police and game wardens merged into a single law enforcement agency, the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section.
“The future will bring new challenges and new technologies. The Enforcement Section’s highly-trained Fish and Wildlife agents will adapt and change to continue our legacy of conservation law enforcement protecting Delaware’s valued fish and wildlife resources while educating our boaters through public cooperation and compliance,” said Enforcement Chief James Graybeal.
This short history of the Delaware Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Section is part of a series of press releases to be issued in 2011 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife.