Kansas currently has 53 full-time field game wardens spread over 83,000 square miles.
But poachers need to know that those game wardens are backed by a posse of 42,000 people that is growing every day.
Dan Melson said it helps having so many supportive people online.
“We’ve made quite a few cases, some good cases, off our Facebook page,” said Melson, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism game warden who started its law enforcement Facebook page in 2014. “We obviously have a lot of people who care about our natural resources and want to see them protected.”
The page has done well since its inception. The game warden’s Facebook page is the second-most followed law enforcement page in Kansas, Melson said. New followers are still coming; Melson said more than 1,000 recently joined in just a few days.
Melson, whose rank of captain keeps him at a desk much of the year, got the idea for the Facebook page after seeing how well other states were doing with theirs. He also saw how working online could help Kansas game wardens.
“We really needed a niche like this; we’re just so understaffed for a law enforcement group,” Melson said.
“A main reason (for starting the page) was to let people know what we’re doing. So much of our work is back on some remote gravel road, and we just don’t find many people out there.”
Brian Hanzlick, a Barton County game warden, said the page has improved public relations. Many of the hunters he checks are quick to mention something they’ve seen on the page.
It’s the same, he said, when he walks into a restaurant in nearby Great Bend.
“People will ask me about this case or that case they saw on Facebook,” Hanzlick said.
“They’re also learning we do more than just check licenses and write tickets. They get to see how often we work with kids or with wildlife education.”
The page also has educated the public as to things like how game wardens assist other branches of law enforcement, and a K-9 team that helped track down a missing child.
Earlier this month, the page had a short video of game warden Lynn Koch using his handgun to shoot an antler off a buck that was hopelessly tangled with another. Had he not freed them, both would have died.
“Last I checked, the video … had been viewed 422,000 times in just a few days,” Melson said. “It’s been shared in China, Italy and France. It’s literally been shared all around the world.
“That has to help with how people identify with game wardens in Kansas. Those are good things.”
The page also has allowed media outlets across Kansas to easily gain information for potential stories. Melson said he remains impressed with how many media outlets want to help spread what’s on the game warden’s page.
Officials also hope the exposure created by the Facebook page will help as a recruiting tool. Melson said the department currently has six vacancies for field officers.
Because of its stringent requirements, Kansas is constantly searching for quality applicants to put through its academy for game wardens. Recruitment and retention are difficult because Kansas game wardens are some of the lowest paid in the nation.
An occasional look at the Facebook page will at least let game wardens know their efforts are usually appreciated by the public.
Melson talked of times when people logged on with negative comments about Kansas wildlife laws, management programs or game wardens.
“One of the neat things is how quickly other people got on them, supporting us,” Melson said. “People on there flat say they really hope poachers are severely punished.
“It becomes quickly obvious it’s just not the game wardens who care. The majority of citizens care a lot, too.”
Melson said that supportive public has consistently stepped up to help game wardens solve crimes. He said the department gets tips via private messages about crimes it otherwise would not know about.
Several times officials have run trail camera photos of trespassers, and someone has quickly identified them. It’s the same for the remains of poached deer.
Game warden Glenn Cannizzaro, in Leavenworth County, has used the Facebook page several times. One case, in particular, he said, proves the power of the internet.
“I had a case where we ran a photo of a suspect in a trespassing case, and he called and turned himself in,” Cannizzaro said. “He said, ‘I’m the guy on Facebook,’ and he figured he might as well go ahead and turn himself in before somebody else did it.
“Our Facebook page has been a really good thing.”