Game wardens work Colorado outback crime beat

Ah, the fresh air, the mountain views, the crystalline streams — and the whack jobs with guns.

Being a game warden or park ranger in glorious Colorado may seem like the perfect job, but as The New York Times reports today, it is also a very dangerous job.

Put biology majors and nature lovers in uniforms, give them guns and put them in charge of enforcing the law over vast acreages of wilderness with no back-up and see what happens. Throw in a handful of big-game poachers and a few John Dillinger Wannabes and, well…

GOLDEN, Colo. — As a game warden for the state of Colorado, Todd Schmidt has a workplace that office drudges the world over might fantasize about: the staggering beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

But underneath his shirt, day in and day out, he also wears a reminder of the dangers: a bulletproof vest.

“Keeps you warm, too,” Mr. Schmidt said, patting his chest on a recent cold morning at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about an hour west of Denver, as the snowcapped peaks of the Continental Divide shimmered in the distance.

For some officers, like Ty Petersburg, who manages a heavily used district west of Denver for the Division of Wildlife, the line between urban crime and wildlife crime gets blurred all the time.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Petersburg began following a suspicious-looking vehicle on Interstate 70 — a pursuit that led all the way into the suburbs of Denver, where the driver leaped from his car to attack. Minutes later, perhaps 30 local and county police officers arrived in a siren-screaming swirl of backup that Mr. Petersburg, 31, had summoned by radio. It was a familiar scene: the police helping out their own.

More often, he said, it is the opposite case, where help is willing in spirit, but impossible in practice. Earlier this fall, for example, Mr. Petersburg was in a mountain region in the middle of nowhere and came upon a vehicle driven by a man with outstanding arrest warrants on his name and lots of cocaine in his car. He again called for backup.

“ ‘We’d like to come help you,’ ” he quoted the nearest big urban county sheriff’s office as saying, “ ‘But we don’t have a clue where you’re at.’ ”

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.