The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation's "Gear Up for Game Wardens" program reached a $1 million fundraising milestone just two years after the program launched.
Through private donations, the program provides the specialty equipment that game wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional equipment.
Close to 800 donations have been made since the program began, adding up to a total of just over $1 million raised. Since October 2017, specialty equipment and gear has been purchased and deployed across all eight game warden regions in Texas.
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Some of the specialty gear that is provided by the program and used by Texas Game Wardens includes search and rescue drones, search and rescue inflatable boats, side scan sonar units, water rescue dry suits, night vision and thermal imaging units, ATVs, UTVs, and specialized K-9 units.
The program was started in October 2017 after a group of individuals approached the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the official nonprofit funding partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, with an idea about how they could support the efforts of game wardens in Texas. As discussions continued, a leadership committee was formed, and a website, gearupforgamewardens.org, was launched to facilitate donations.
"Texas Game Wardens play an important role in the lives of all Texans," Dan Flournoy, chair of the Gear Up for Game Wardens Leadership Council, said. "Along with their duty to protect the natural resources we all hold dear, they are also on the frontlines of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. There have been other significant flooding events in Texas since Gear Up for Game Wardens launched, and there is no doubt in my mind that specialty gear provided through this program has saved lives."
Donations have come from all corners of the state and in all amounts, from $25 to more than $66,000 from the Saltwater Anglers League of Texas.The Sabine River Authority also donated more than $70,000 in several grants to the program to show their appreciation of what Texas game wardens do.
Earlier this year, an outreach event in Concan called Women Who Wander dedicated $34,000 in proceeds to Gear Up for Game Wardens. Co-chairs of the Gear Up for Game Wardens leadership council staged fundraisers all over Texas to fund equipment for their local game wardens.
"The local committees are what make the program successful, and 100 percent of every donation received for equipment goes directly to purchase the specialty gear that our Texas Game Wardens need," TPWF Executive Director Susan Houston said. "We are deeply grateful for the support of the committees, and for each and every donation we have received."
Flournoy recounted the story of a phone call he received from a West Texas bank asking about how a bank customer could make a donation to game wardens in Texas.
The customer's husband suffers from Alzheimer's and could not be found for hours after he wandered away from their rural home. A Texas game warden tracked him down with the aid of an ATV funded by Gear Up for Game Wardens and brought him home safely before dark.
The bank customer wanted to show her support and made a $500 donation to Gear Up for Game Wardens. The bank officer informed Flournoy that this was a sizable donation for the couple.
"That phone call really touched my heart and made me really appreciate how Texas Game Wardens help all Texans," Flournoy said.
Texas game wardens have watched over the lands, waters, wildlife, and people of Texas for more than 100 years. Every year, Texas game wardens patrol over 10 million miles by vehicle and 130,000 hours by boat, facing unique challenges in the 254 counties they serve.
"The level of support we have received from the Gear Up for Game Wardens program administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is absolutely incredible," Col. Grahame Jones, who heads the Law Enforcement Division at TPWD, said. "Most of all, every Texas Game Warden is deeply appreciative of the hundreds of Texans who have donated to Gear Up."