INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN Within the property of this international park is a two-story building that was completed in 2006 the North American Game Warden Museum. It is the only one of its kind fully dedicated to telling the history of game wardens on both sides of the 49th parallel, from those working in the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost reaches of Canada.
Just outside the rear entrance to the museum is the Hall-of-Honors, a series of impressive granite memorials bearing the names of 370 fallen game wardens and conservation officers. Some of those killed while protecting natural resources date back to the 1890s. Most are in more modern times. The Hall-of-Honors is a vivid reminder to game wardens who visit the memorial of the dangers they face on the job, and it serves as an awakening to visitors who perhaps don't realize the inherent dangers of the game warden profession.
"That memorial is probably one of our most key features, dedicated to those whose duty it is to protect our resources," said David Grant, Game Warden Museum president and Chief Natural Resource Officer for Manitoba. "You'll find all regions of Canada and the United States there, a total of 70 jurisdictions are represented. We've done our best not to have missed anyone."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN - - A variety of displays inside the Game Warden Museum help illustrate the conservation aspects of being a game warden. The museum is open each weekend in May and daily from June 1 through Sept. 13.
A common perception of game wardens is that their work is limited to checking licenses of hunters and fishermen and occasionally writing a ticket to someone for catching too many fish or failing to properly tag a deer. However, game warden responsibilities are much broader. North Dakota game wardens participate in virtually any situation where law enforcement is needed, from search-and-rescue to traffic control to assisting at road blocks.
Canadian game wardens, called conservation officers or natural resource officers, also have a wide variety of duties and training. They can be called upon to enforce fish and game laws during the day, work enforcement at a provincial park in the evening and join a fire crew headed into the wilderness the following morning. It is work than can be both exciting and dangerous.
"We don't think of any one place as more dangerous than another," Grant said. "Personal safety is determined by experience and doing your job. You factor in those things to reduce your risk, but it doesn't eliminate it by any means."
Complacency can quickly place a game warden in a life-threatening situation. In a famous case known to game wardens on both sides of the border, Idaho poacher Claude Dallas used a .357 handgun to down wardens Bill Pogue and Conley Elms before executing them at close range with a .22 rifle. News of the brutal killings in January 1981 spread quickly. North Dakota game wardens were among those put on alert. Dallas was on the run and it was known he had reasons to be headed to the Dakotas.
It took 15 months for the FBI to track down the notorious executor of the two game wardens. Dallas went to trial in 1982, was found guilty and began serving a 30 year prison term. He escaped in 1986 and was quickly placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list. It was another 12 months before Dallas was recaptured and returned to a prison cell. He was denied early release at a parol hearing in 2001. Dallas was eventually released in February 2005 after serving 22 years behind bars.
Wardens Pogue and Elms are among the fallen honored at the Peace Garden site.
As the Dallas case clearly shows, there is nothing routine about the daily work required of game wardens. That is particularly true when working hunting seasons when there are thousands of firearms in the field.
"You never have a sure thing when you are a game warden. Usually there's no backup, no dispatch and nobody really knows if you are in the field or not," said Paul Freeman, Devils Lake, vice-president of the Game Warden Museum and North Dakota Game and Fish Department game warden supervisor. "It is potentially dangerous work. We've been pretty lucky in North Dakota. In other states the story is not so great, the guys that have died in the line of duty."
"We have surprisingly few incidents when it comes to hunters," Grant said. "Most in law enforcement think of any kind of firearm as an absolute threat, and they should, but we're dealing with them as a hunter. We do our best at all times not to be complacent. We approach every situation and look for danger signs, anything that might be a threat. We just know what we have to deal with and we expect hunters to have guns. "
A memorial service honoring fallen wardens was held at the Game Warden Museum last September. Several area game wardens were in attendance and even a few from as far away as Florida.
"It was very emotional for many of the guys," said Brenda Hevenor, park manager and organizer of the event. "Families were there celebrating the life of a family member. Feedback on the memorial has been excellent, especially from the game wardens that have come here from all over North America."
The North American Game Warden Museum contains several exhibits explaining the various roles of game wardens. The museum Web site tells the reason for constructing the museum.
"On the front line of natural resource protection, often working alone, routinely facing dangerous situations, are GAME WARDENS. Risking and sometimes sacrificing their lives for conservation, they are NORTH AMERICAN HEROES. Our project, the North American Game Warden Museum, has two missions: To HONOR these heroes and EDUCATE the public about their work."
The museum is a work in progress, with new displays scheduled to be added and the quality of existing displays scheduled for upgrades. A variety of mounted animals can be found at the museum, along with several animal pelts, horns and antlers. Photographic displays are used to explain the wide variety of roles game wardens are called upon to do, from conservation duties to public relations to enforcement.
"This project is definitely a passion for the game wardens," Brenda Hevenor said. "The museum helps educate the public to what game wardens do. It shows the unity between the two countries through the game wardens' eyes. They do the same job on both sides of the border, improving our environment and conserving our wildlife."
The museum has proved to be a good fit for the International Peace Garden. It is a fitting place to honor the fallen and to tell the game warden story on both sides of the border. The building itself is also an attraction.
"It's an impressive building. It's beautiful," said Doug Hevenor, CEO of the International Peace Garden. "It's a tremendous resource for the Peace Garden. It gives visitors something extra to do. To see those monuments to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty is amazing. It really awakens people about how tough it can be to protect nature and the environment."
The museum building appears complete inside and out. However, the building was constructed so that a wall could be removed and an additional wing could be added to increase the display area. Funds are currently being sought to facilitate the expansion.
"We are in the process of working with the Winnipeg Foundation to create the North American Game Warden Museum Fund," Grant said. "Our goal is to sustain the operation of the museum for years to come. We need donations to our fund so it will grow and we'll always be able to increase exhibits and expand on programming."
A conference room and a small library is housed in the museum. The library contains books related to game warden duties. Most of the books were donated by game wardens, either active or retired, and can be perused on site by visitors.
"We want to do our best to educate about wildlife conservation and enforcement as a tool in conservation," Grant said. "Game wardens are not preservationists. We believe in hunting and fishing but also in managing resources so they are sustainable."
Canada and the United States, two countries that have much in common, share a common bond at the North American Game Warden Museum. The unfortified 49th parallel, the border that separates the two nations on the map only, is a proper place to pay tribute to game wardens regardless of what title they are called.
For more information on the North American Game Warden Museum, including hours of operation, log on at (www.gamewardenmuseum.org).