A legislative change in the funding for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks means game wardens will be required to do more wildlife management work, making them less available for law enforcement needs, the agency said.
"There's definitely an impact on our law enforcement responsibilities," said Dave Loewen, chief of the agency's law enforcement division.
FWP published a fact sheet on its website last week explaining that the change in duties required under the new funding will be the equivalent of moving 30 game wardens to wildlife positions. The change took effect on July 1 and will be in effect at least until mid-2019. General big game hunting season begins on Oct. 21.
The Legislature applied for more federal Pittman-Robertson money to fund FWP rather than increase hunting license fees. The money is raised through a tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition and can only be used for wildlife management work.
Prior to the change, Montana received about $587,000 a year in Pittman-Robertson money. Under the new formula, the state will receive $2.4 million in federal money each year for wildlife management.
The wildlife agency argued against the move. Agency attorney Becky Dockter said in March that requiring wardens to devote 14 hours a week to non-enforcement work would contradict their duties as defined under state law.
Wardens are required to "devote all their time for which they are appointed to their official duties," Dockter wrote. The statute outlining warden official duties lists first the enforcement of the laws of the state and the rules of the department, she said.
Law enforcement duties include making sure hunters and anglers have licenses, are complying with the law and investigating poaching. Wildlife management duties include talking with landowners about increasing access to lands, setting up block management areas, wildlife surveys and grizzly bear conflict prevention.
The agency has developed "individual warden work plans to incorporate this funding shift," the agency said. Wardens have an electronic tracking system to log the time they spend on different tasks.
The agency will be audited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Pittman-Robertson funds, to ensure no law enforcement work is charged against the funds.