Texas Game Wardens: Power in the Field
Within the borders of the state, all the deer in the forests and fish in the streams belong to the great State of Texas. If you want to hunt, trap, or fish in Texas, you must comply with the legal regulations of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code, which are enforced by Texas game wardens.
Because people seldom encounter game wardens in their day-to-day lives, a lot of misconceptions exist regarding their profession. Most people believe game wardens are glorified park rangers who spend their days hunting and fishing, but this misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. If you hunt, fish, or frequent Texas parks or waterways, it’s important you understand the authority these Texas gatekeepers wield to avoid getting trapped in a legal misunderstanding.
First and foremost, Texas game wardens are police officers.
You might be surprised to hear that Texas game wardens are actually commissioned peace officers, which means they have the same powers, privileges, and immunities as police officers in the state. In fact, game wardens are arguably some of the most powerful. Most, if not all, have college degrees and have gone through extensive training.
Texas game wardens are “big game” in the law enforcement terrain.
Second, Texas game warden authority extends beyond the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code.
Just as bison roam the great plains and red snapper occupy the Gulf, Texas game warden jurisdiction stretches far and wide, encompassing not only the diverse lands within the state, but also the coastal waterways, bays, and estuaries of the State of Texas.
While their primary objective is conserving Texas’ natural resources and wildlife, the duties of the Texas game wardens are not limited to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code. They have full authority to enforce all laws of the state, including the Texas Penal Code. Like other police officers, game wardens have the power to search, seize, and arrest individuals for violating Texas laws. So, if you’re flying down a road in game warden territory, you’re cruising for a bruising—Texas game wardens can make traffic stops and issue speeding tickets.
Furthermore, a game warden’s authority encompasses more than just state law. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Commerce confer special federal commissions to Texas game wardens, which allow them to enforce both federal fisheries and wildlife laws here in the state.
Remember, if you’re dealing with a Texas game warden, you’re dealing with the police. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
Third, Texas game wardens have broad search and seizure powers.
If a game warden suspects a person is violating any state or federal wildlife law, the game warden may inspect:
• any license, permit, tag, or other document required to hunt or catch wildlife resources;
• any device that may be used to hunt or catch a wildlife resource;
• any wildlife resource in the person’s possession; and
• the contents of any container used to store or conceal a wildlife resource.
Additionally, a Texas game warden may search a game bag, vehicle, vessel, or any other container if the warden has reasonable, articulable suspicion (i.e., more than a mere hunch) to believe such item contains a wildlife resource that has been unlawfully killed or taken. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code, “wildlife resource” means any animal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, or other aquatic life or part thereof regulated under the Texas Parks & Wildlife Code.
Texas game wardens are also authorized to enter any land or water, including private property, where wild game and fish are known to range and stray to enforce Texas game and fish laws.
Take notice: The eyes of Texas are upon you, and so are the Texas game wardens.
Special thanks to Independent Program Attorney Emily Taylor, for contributing this article.
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