Lions and pikas and bears: A job? | SummitDaily.com

Lions and pikas and bears: A job?

JULIE SUTOR
summit daily news

Special to the Daily/CDOW

SUMMIT COUNTY – If you’re one of the thousands of Coloradans looking for work right now, and you have a special interest in the state’s magnificent abundance of wildlife, your search could soon end with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The state agency that monitors and manages the health of Colorado’s flora and fauna is looking to hire a new batch of wildlife managers.

“We’re seeing a continuing bubble of Baby Boomer employees retiring, and we need to keep a steady stream of well-trained employees to replace them,” agency spokesman Randy Hampton said.

That Boomer factor, in combination with a recent state hiring freeze, has left the agency in need of eight new District Wildlife Managers – the people on the front lines of wildlife management and protection.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) divides the state into districts that average 800 square miles.

“A District Wildlife Manager is the person responsible for managing wildlife in their district,” Hampton said. “So you’re really talking about an extensive area with a lot of wildlife issues. You go from checking on fishermen one minute to making sure a gas spill doesn’t get into a creek the next.”

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District Wildlife Managers serve as sworn law enforcement officers and are charged with ensuring public compliance with the state’s wildlife regulations, including those related to hunting and fishing.

Windi Padia, who now works as a recruiter in CDOW’s human resources department, got her start with the agency as a District Wildlife Manager.

“I didn’t know if I would like the law-enforcement aspect of it, but it ended up being very interesting and a really fun challenge,” Padia said. “Most of the people our officers run into aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s only a very few people who are breaking wildlife laws. But when someone is egregiously breaking the law, it’s fun to catch those people.”

Those egregious violations include poaching wildlife, hunting without a license and illegal possession of wildlife.

“District Wildlife Managers become very visible in hunting season, when people see them in the traditional game-warden role. But what we do in Colorado is much more than law enforcement,” Hampton said.

During January and February, many wildlife managers fly over their districts in planes or helicopters, checking on the population dynamics of deer and elk herds. In the spring, they deal with bears coming out of hibernation, and they make educational visits to local schools.

“Summertime is the cool time. They may be out on a horse, stocking fish in a high mountain lake, checking on beaver ponds, working with researchers trapping and transplanting bighorn sheep or turkeys. You never know what’s coming up, but there’s always another adventure waiting,” Hampton said.

Summit County District Wildlife Manager Shannon Schwab, who has been with the agency since 2002, took part in a helicopter-assisted moose relocation from North Park last spring. Together with about 50 CDOW employees and volunteers, Schwab helped in the operation to locate moose, airlift them, collect biological information, apply radio collars, transport them and reintroduce the animals into another area.

“That’s pretty cool,” Schwab said. “That’s why you do this job. You get to see wildlife up close and work with them hands-on.”

A couple times each year, Schwab is called to help extricate a bull elk whose antlers become entangled in fences.

“He’s going to die without your help, so to know you saved him by setting him free is pretty rewarding and exciting,” she said.

District Wildlife Managers must have a bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, wildlife management, ecology or a related field. CDOW provides a year’s worth of training in law enforcement, wildlife law, wildlife management and outdoor skills, including orienteering and snowmobile operation.

“In general with our employees, the one thing we really share is a love of working for wildlife,” Padia said.

SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or jsutor@summitdaily.com.