It’s no secret that the North Country wilderness is an outdoorsman’s dream.
Deer, bears, turkeys and water fowl are just a few species of animals that call Fort Drum their home.
To help ensure community members are safe this fall, game wardens with the Directorate of Emergency Services have been busy taking proactive measures and enforcing regulations across their roughly 107,000-acre jurisdiction.
Game wardens can be seen patrolling the installation in their black military police vehicles, but ultimately they serve the same purpose as MPs, with special emphasis on conservation law enforcement.
“The biggest difference between a game warden and a traditional police officer would have to be the patrol areas and the set of laws / regulations that we enforce,” said DES Sgt. 1st Class David J. Drew, Game Warden Section Supervisor. “We enforce the Fort Drum Fish and Wildlife Regulation, along with the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, and the NYS Agriculture and Markets Law.”
Game wardens also enforce federal endangered species laws, as well as vehicle and traffic laws, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the state penal law, he added.
“In addition to enforcing these laws on the cantonment area and the airfield, where it’s far more densely populated, we enforce these laws down range where there are far more animals than there are humans,” Drew said. “Instead of having unit, housing and business areas, we have vast ranges and wilderness to patrol.”
Fort Drum recreational areas are open for public use; however, anyone who wants to use installation land for hunting, fishing or other recreational purpose must apply for a Fort Drum recreation and access pass from the Fish and Wildlife Management Office website www.FortDrum.iSportsman.net. Recreational maps and other literature are available at the Fort Drum Fish and Wildlife kiosk located at Bldg. 2509, New York State Route 26.
Before recreating on Fort Drum, individuals must call Range Control to report whether they will set up in the cantonment area or obtain a pass to access training ranges not being used for official military purposes.
Game wardens receive a list of all the people who reported to Range Control for the day and a map noting which ranges are being used for military training and which ones are open for recreational use, according to Patrolman Brian A. Wetmore, DES Game Warden.
During hunting season, Range Control representatives have recorded up to 500 people who signed in for recreational use. Although they might not all be on the installation at one time, because of the high number of people interested in recreating on post, it is an another time of the year when DES receives additional assistance from the 91st Military Police Battalion, according to Drew.
Individuals must park their vehicles within 50 feet of the road on the side of the area they plan to use. Fort Drum vehicle recreation passes must be in clear view to allow game wardens to have a better idea of who is using that area of land. Individuals also must have appropriate state hunting or fishing license, photo ID and a recreation and access pass on their person.
“We document where we find people parked,” Wetmore said. “That helps us quickly ascertain whether someone is there legally or provide assistance in the event of an emergency.”
Game wardens also rely on the public to help ensure people are safe, Wetmore added.
“If someone sees something unusual or unsafe – like someone not wearing blaze orange during hunting season – they should report it,” he explained.
Although game wardens are responsible for enforcing laws, they are also ready and equipped to provide emergency assistance in the event of an accident or injury, Drew said.
Vehicle accountability checks are just one way the game wardens keep track of people using the recreation areas. For those on a daily pass, users may leave their vehicles two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Those with overnight passes must check in and out with Range Control, Wetmore said. In the event a hunter is tracking a wounded animal and needs additional time, they can simply call and let someone at Range Control know.
Game wardens are equipped with an emergency-response trailer, all-terrain vehicles, snow mobiles and a rescue boat. The team recently added an Argo vehicle, which will allow them to travel in snow, mud, brush, over downed trees and even in water, to assist recreationists who may need help.
Everyone using the recreation areas is responsible for knowing the rules. All policies are listed in Fort Drum Regulation 420-3, which is updated annually and signed by the Garrison Commander, Wetmore added.
Drew noted the most common offenses are not properly displaying vehicle recreation and access passes, transporting uncased weapons and improperly labeled tree stands. According to Regulation 420-3, tree stands must be permanently marked with the owner’s name and phone number and it must be visible from the ground.
“This regulation needs to be read from cover to cover and should be carried with them to answer any questions,” he explained. “The biggest excuse we have from violators is that they didn't know what they were doing was against the regulation.”
People are not the only living things game wardens are tasked to protect, Drew said. Game wardens also protect wildlife from poaching and baiting, as well as promote safety and they help prevent trash dumping, theft of property, drug and alcohol use.
Just this month, game wardens were informed of two baiting devices used to possibly attract animals for easy hunting.
It is important for hunters to know and understand New York State and Fort Drum hunting laws, because while baiting is permitted in some states, all forms of baiting are illegal on post.
Because of game wardens’ wide range of duties, the law enforcement personnel often work with other on- and off-post agencies, Drew said. When it comes to forestry and animals located on Fort Drum, game wardens work especially close with the Directorate of Public Works’ Environmental and Fish and Wildlife divisions.
Game wardens also work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation when dealing with any serious offenses, Wetmore said. After committing an offense, a person’s hunting license is automatically suspended until fines are paid, charges are dropped or the situation is resolved, he noted.
“The state has reciprocity, and there are a lot of people here from out of state,” Drew said, adding that any serious offenses committed in New York can follow individuals back to their home state.
“About 98 percent of people out here are trying to do the right thing, spend time with their kids or put food on the table, but we have to be on the lookout all the time,” he continued.
To sign in at Range Control, individuals may call 772-7153. For current maps, a downloadable copy of Fort Drum Regulation 420-3 and more information about recreating on post, visit www.FortDrum.iSportsman.net.