Making calls for the wild
Although he won’t be wearing anything as conspicuous as a black-and-white striped shirt, the local game warden says his job equates to that of a referee or umpire.
“We officiate the outdoor sports,” said Glenn Cannizzaro, natural resource officer for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism for Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties for 26 years. “It’s my job to make sure people are playing by the rules.”
Much like his competitive sports counterparts, Cannizzaro’s decisions are not always popular. But his decisions can lead to actions more serious than a cascade of boos from the stands.
“I’ve had a rifle pointed at me, a shotgun thrown at me, an individual attacked me several years ago because he didn’t like game wardens, I’ve been threatened in a locker plant when I was checking on a carcass, and I had a death threat on my home phone years ago,” he said. “It seems like no one likes game wardens. Assault against game wardens is fairly high across the nation.”
Cannizzaro, who also works part time for the Tonganoxie Police Department, said he was more diplomatic as game warden because violators are armed and backup is far away.
With the fall hunting season getting in full swing, Cannizzaro is entering his busiest time of year, responding to complaints about trespassers, keeping watch for such things as night deer spotting and monitoring hunters for licenses and checking locker plants to ensure deer carcasses have proper tags.
His diligence in those duties have earned him a reputation for being strict, Cannizzaro said. He concedes he firmly enforces the law. If someone is hunting or fishing without a license, taking deer without tags or leaving a dead deer in the field, he will ticket the individual, he said.
“In the old days, they’d say times were tough and they needed meat,” he said of poachers. “My response was that I could get them all the meat they need. We had a girl in the county who couldn’t eat any meat but venison. As soon as they were running low on deer meat, I’d get them another one.”
But times have changed, and greed and not meat for the table is behind much of today’s poaching, Cannizzaro said.
“Anymore, they’ll kill deer just for the head or rack — rather than take the meat, they’ll take it for antlers,” he said. “If they put them up in their home or shop, we’ll never know. We find out about it when they try to sell them.
“There’s a huge market for large racks.”
The Internet helped establish the market for deer racks, Cannizzaro said. A look Monday on the popular Internet auction site eBay found deer racks selling from $5 to $8,500, with many sellers asking from $100 to $300. That kind of money not only encourages poaching, but the illegal removal of heads from road kill, Cannizzaro said.
State laws require the heads of all legally taken deer be attached until they are taken to a process plant or the hunter’s residence. It is also illegal to remove the heads of road-kill deer, Cannizzaro said. The only antlers that can be removed from the wild are those stags dropped naturally at the end of the rutting season, he said.
Although local hunters complain that many of the violators are from Kansas City or elsewhere, he finds most are homegrown, Cannizzaro said. He added that poaching and illegal hunting is often learned behavior.
“It tends to run in families,” he said. “If you see your father poaching, you’re more likely to do it.”
Law-abiding sportsmen should have no trouble finding deer in Leavenworth County, Cannizzaro said. The deer population is plentiful and steady, held in check by hunters and vehicle collisions, he said.
Deer hunters will be joined by those seeking the county’s plentiful turkey and waterfowl along the Kansas and Missouri rivers, he said.
Through it all, Cannizzaro will be responding to complaints, watching and probably making few friends by helping creatures who can’t express gratitude.
“Very rarely do we get thanks for what we do,” he said. “I get more thanks with the police department than I do with wildlife and parks.
“When you think about it, the victims of wildlife and park violations are animals.”