Grievance Hearing Set Involving Montana Wardens

By Beacon Staff

A hearing with an arbitrator, the state wildlife agency and the wardens’ union has been set after negotiators failed to find a resolution in a grievance over the creation of new warden positions specifically for parks.

The Montana Public Employees Association filed the protest in April after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks created three new park warden positions. The union contended the new duties would infringe on current warden duties and responsibilities, removing and reassigning those duties and responsibilities to the parks wardens.

It said FWP wardens already donate hundreds of hours of overtime each year.

The grievance hearing is set for Feb. 1. It would take about 30 days after an arbitration hearing before a ruling would be made.

Quinton Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association, sent a three-page letter outlining several laws that he contended Fish, Wildlife and Parks ignored in creating the new positions. He wrote that the FWP’s parks division had no statutory authority to establish its own warden corps, that public comment should have been taken on the plan, and that field training officers, or FTOs, were told to change their program to accommodate park wardens.

The new positions have been filled, and the officers have completed Peace Officer Standards and Training certification and graduated from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, according to The Billings Gazette. The wardens would be stationed at Tongue River Reservoir State Park, on the Smith River and Ackley Lake, and at the Salmon and Placid lake areas.

The union’s letter said that “changing any portion of the current (Field Training and Evaluation Program) manual is a violation of the established training policy and affects current (field training officer) duties and responsibilities as well as places unnecessary liability upon the FTO.”

“The Parks Division has no law enforcement training infrastructure and is attempting to modify training from current FTOs,” it said.

Because fish and wildlife dollars can’t be used for parks, a parks division within Fish, Wildlife and Parks pays $200,000 a year to an enforcement division. Chas Van Genderen, FWP parks administrator, has said it would be better to spend the money on officers to work at the state’s busiest parks, leading to the new parks warden positions.

“Whenever we have a problem, we want someone there right now,” Van Genderen told the newspaper last summer. “We could give (wardens) another $100,000 and it wouldn’t fix the problem.”