Trafficking

Life as an Undercover Game Warden

By Tony H. Latham

The author, now retired as a decorated regional investigator for Idaho Fish and Game, describes exactly what game wardens do, and how he became interested in a career of undercover work. “Crossing Paths,” the first chapter of his 2012 book, Trafficking, is reprinted here with permission.

I remember the first time I was at Dworshak Dam [near Orofino]. My brother Nick and I were on our way to school at the University of Idaho in Moscow. He was studying architecture and I was struggling with a degree in wildlife management. He wanted to build stuff and I wanted to be a game warden.

Dworshak Dam was being built and Nick wanted to look at it during its construction phase. It was no minor project since it would be the country’s third highest dam when it was completed. It was quite the sight to see.

Twenty years later I returned to that spot near the dam where my brother and I had looked over its creation; but this trip wasn’t as a curious spectator. I was recalling the earlier visit with my brother but thinking about how bizarre this revisit was. I was investigating the illegal trafficking in wildlife. I wasn’t wearing a uniform, badge, or gun-belt since I was working undercover. I was about to initiate my first “illegal buy” of wildlife all while the deja vu of the past trip with my brother was playing though my head.

I think most kids ponder what they are going to be when they grow up. I’m sure I didn’t dwell on the subject, but I do remember my grandmother talking about her brother Hawley and the respect she had for him as an Idaho game warden. I don’t remember meeting him until well after he had retired. Regretfully he passed on before my appointment as an Idaho conservation officer and I never got to talk to him about his career. Hawley Hill attained the rank of Enforcement Bureau Chief, and after I was hired, I found that his troops had called him “Holy Hell” behind his back. It’s my belief the nickname came from a combination of fear and respect.

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