By Andrew McKean
Region 6 information officer
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Game Warden Shane Reno, a 13-year veteran of the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is the winner of the 2004 Shikar-Safari Award.
The award is given each year to a single game warden in Montana based on "their professional relationship with hunters, anglers and
landowners in their districts, their dedication to the wildlife law enforcement profession and their participation in activities outside of daily enforcement work."
Shikar-Safari Club International, a worldwide conservation group that promotes hunting, game management and hunter ethics, presented the award at the annual game wardens' award ceremony in Helena earlier this summer.
The fact that Reno, nominated several times in previous years, won the award this year was no surprise to Mike Herman, the Region 6 warden captain who nominated him. Reno is based in Havre.
"Shane is the senior field warden in the region," Herman said. "He is always ready to dig into a project or help another warden, and his expertise is critical to protecting the state's wildlife and assisting the public. This is a career award, based on consistent excellence year after year."
Reno, who grew up in Belgrade and spent his first two years as a warden in Billings, patrols all of Hill County and part of Blaine County, a warden district that's larger than some Eastern states. His job takes him from investigating the poaching of antelope on the short-grass prairie along the Canadian border to a Hunter Education class in Havre, the largest town in Region 6. The next day, he's meeting with landowners in the remote interior of the Bear Paw Mountains, then checking walleye anglers on Fresno Reservoir. Later, he'll teach canoeing to members of a 4-H club before meeting with FWP wildlife biologists to discuss elk management.
"This district has a little of everything," Reno said. "In the summer, we have different water sports and all kinds of fishing, from lakes to rivers to prairie ponds, and just about every species of fish, from walleye to trout to paddlefish. We have game animals that run the gamut from antelope to bighorn sheep to waterfowl to upland birds. Throw in the landscape, from plains to mountains to river breaks, plus larger towns and a diverse population, so things stay interesting."
Reno has been involved in several high-profile - as well as some deliberately low-profile - cases. His work helped crack a poaching ring that involved the illegal killing of several bighorn sheep and trophy-class elk in the Little Rocky Mountains and Missouri River Breaks. He went undercover to help investigate the trade of walleye fillets for deer tags, a case that culminated in several state and federal wildlife violations.
In the past year, Reno was involved in Operation Louisiana Purchase, a large investigation that revolved around a landowner and his sponsored Louisiana hunters. Reno and other Region 6 wardens traveled to Louisiana to conduct interviews and seize illegally taken animals. In all, 47 interviews were conducted, 43 animals were seized and officers issued 56 citations and collected $23,000 in bond. The case is pending federal prosecution.
Reno is also one of three training officers in the region and devotes hours to working in the field with probationary wardens, teaching them skills, evaluating their abilities and coaching them to be effective game wardens. Since 1997, Reno has been involved in training 13 probationary officers throughout the state. Despite the extra work, Reno values the training assignments.
"I feel lucky to have a chance to help shape our wardens who will be with the department long into the future," said Reno. "Ultimately, it's people that make this job so interesting. Residents of this area have treated me better than good. It's a pleasure to be part of the community and work with some exceptional people. I have wonderful support from my family, including a spouse who supports my addiction to my job. I have a lot of dinners waiting for me in the oven when I come home from working into the night."
Reno stops his pickup on a vista overlooking the timbered draws and grassy parks of the Bear Paw Mountains. He points out landmarks and productive pockets of habitat. He identifies property lines and praises particularly cooperative landowners. Then he sits back and smiles.
"The best thing about my job is my job," he said. "I get to be a game warden in Montana. That's one dream fulfilled. Then I get the Shikar-Safari Award just for doing what I love to do."