The National Geographic Channel has come up with a name for its new program based on the wardens of the California Department of Fish and Game: “Wild Justice.”
The network also said that they would buy four additional “Wild Justice” episodes for a total of eight slated to air later this year.
The show was first announced back in November. It is being produced by Original Productions, the Burbank-based production company behind several cable shows based on the lives of people in dangerous, blue-collar professions. The company’s most famous show is the “Deadliest Catch,” a Discovery Channel hit about fisherman in Alaska. Other Original Productions titles include “Ax Men” and “Ice Road Truckers.”
A DFG said the department hopes the show will help in game warden recruitment. The department currently has only 192 wardens as of 2008, fewer than they had in 1975, a time when the state had only about 60 percent as many people as it does today. This is the lowest ration of wardens to population of any state in the country. By comparison, South Carolina, a poorer state about one-eighth the size of California, has 261 wardens in the field.
The Department of Personnel Administration eliminated 50 open warden positions because they had been listed for months without sufficient applicants. Starting salary for a warden is just $42,972, compared to $65,182 for a highway patrolman.
“We just don’t have enough people taking the test to become wardens,” said Jerry Karnow, president of the California Fish & Game Wardens Association. “The gene pool gets smaller and smaller. They’re not filling the positions. It comes down to pay. I lot of cops I talk to would prefer to Fish & Game wardens but they end up working for different agencies instead.”
Karnow said that one warden he knows, who left a different California law enforcement agency to be a warden, just left to become a warden in Washington state — a place where, like Oregon, warden pay is the same as that of Highway Patrol officers.
He also said that it’s one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement. The DFG has lost 16 officer in it’s history, half to murder, a high rate of death for a small agency. Wardens typically work on their own, and the people they encounter in the line of duty are likely to be armed — something that was shown in one episode when a warden entered a deer hunting camp filled with hunters armed to the teeth.
Public television networks in Texas and Kentucky already carry shows about wardens in those states, although “Wild Justice” promises to get wider distribution. The National Geographic Channel is a joint venture with the magazine of the same name and the Fox Cable Networks, with distribution to 160 million homes in 143 countries.