Times have changed, but game warden's role hasn't

Most who work odd hours in the extremely remote reaches of Kansas do so in obscurity.

Not Tracy Galvin.

"It seems like you can hardly go anywhere in about five states that somebody doesn't know who Tracy is," said B.J. Thurmon, Galvin's co-worker and friend.

Galvin, of Coldwater, retired from a 28-year career as a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks game warden Sept. 19. In those years, he saw many changes, including the path of his intended career.

In the mid-1980s, Galvin was fairly new with the agency and working largely with fisheries biologists.

On several occasions he was at gatherings with game wardens.

"I noticed the biologists just kind of hung together and talked," said Galvin, 59. "When the game wardens were together, they were always laughing a lot and having a lot of fun. I decided that's what I wanted to be."

Since then, most of his career has been riding herd on the wildlife in the Red Hills of Barber, Clark and Comanche counties.

Galvin said in many ways the job has remained the same, with the same kind of criminals trying to pull the same kinds of crimes. In some ways, catching them was easier in the old days.

"Back then, you never thought anything of being out in the field 50 to 60 hours a week. If that's what it took, that's what you did," Galvin said

He said it seems each passing year made it more difficult to spend such time in the field as increased regulations and record-keeping requirements were brought to the job.

But more modern times brought many improvements. Galvin said increased cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents has helped greatly. Many poachers have been saddled with federal and state charges.

"It's at least led to some fines that met the crimes," he said. "We didn't always have that."

Time has also brought technological changes that helped Galvin and other wardens be more proficient.

Night-vision optics have helped find poachers who once hid behind darkness. Remote surveillance equipment, like video cameras, has spent days and weeks gathering evidence.

Though he used new technology well, Galvin was known as a master of old-fashioned law enforcement skills.

Jim Kellenberger, Galvin's supervisor for about 22 years, rated him as the best suspect interviewer he's ever seen.

Thurmon, of Elkhart, agreed. Often the wardens who lived two hours apart teamed up on poaching cases.

"Tracy could always build a rapport with the bad guys. He had an uncanny skill of getting them to tell the truth," Thurmon said. "He was really good at getting their confidence and asking the right question at the right time. It was funny, but when Tracy wrote somebody a ticket they usually ended up being friendly and thanking him when it was all over."

Galvin can't remember the first citation he issued and has no clue how many he wrote through his career. Some, however, repeatedly come to mind.

About five years ago he got a call from a rancher about a trespasser in a wide Comanche County pasture.

"When B.J. and I got there, it was just like a scene from the old west," he said. "The bad guy was hiding down in some big, deep canyon. The cowboys had him surrounded, sitting on their horses around the top of the canyon."

About the same year, an anonymous phone tip came about a Missouri hunter who had allegedly illegally shot two deer and hidden one in a thicket.

After several interviews, Galvin figured out the tipster was the hunter's wife, who had been hunting with him when the poaching occurred. She was still with him when Galvin wrote citations.

But probably Galvin's most-noted case came after little true investigative work.

Like all Kansas wardens, he'd heard rumors of mountain lions on a weekly basis.

About two years ago, word and a well-circulated photo came that showed a Barber County landowner with a dead lion.

When Galvin visited, he learned the landowner had seen the big cat several times and even reported it to Wildlife and Parks headquarters in Pratt.

Eventually when the landowner saw the mountain lion close to his home he shot and killed it, took a few photos and shipped the hide to a Texas taxidermist.

Galvin seized the pelt, which is still the only proof of a wild Kansas mountain lion in modern times.

"That was cool having that distinction," Galvin said.