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Jack Zaleski, Published April 19 2014

Zaleski: A game warden’s fascinating story

North Dakota outdoors enthusiasts, particularly hunters and anglers, will enjoy a new book by retired game warden Bruce Burkett. I met him years ago when he was assigned to the Devils Lake, N.D., district, and by my reckoning his presence there marked a change in the way game wardens had been doing their jobs.

Burkett retired as game warden investigations supervisor, the enforcement arm of the state Game and Fish Department. His book carries the intriguing title “I Didn’t Know Game Wardens Did That!” It’s an appropriate thought because Burkett’s stories of his life in the field cover a startling range of incidents, enforcement activities and fascinating accounts of the people he worked with over the 42 years of his career. Tales of what he did solo and with others will surprise readers.

The self-published volume features photos that will resonate with readers who knew or knew of Burkett, especially hunters and anglers from the Devils Lake area.

As a waterfowl hunter during my years at Devils Lake, and as editor of the Devils Lake Daily Journal, I got to know Burkett on several levels. He was, first and foremost, a no-nonsense game warden. He knew what his job was supposed to be, and he did it, regardless of consequences. There was fallout because Burkett enforced game and fish regulations to the letter, which was not necessarily the situation in that area prior to his arrival. The good ol’ boys network was still strong in the 1970s when he was assigned to Devils Lake after having served in postings in the west.

It didn’t take long for Burkett’s tough enforcement reputation to spread. He understood he was not in a popularity contest. His mandate was to enforce the law and protect game and fish resources. He did that extremely well, and his modus operandi became the norm, the model, in later years for other officers. That’s a legacy of which to be proud.

There are too many stories in the book to relate here, but every one of them is a thread in the diverse and colorful tapestry of Burkett’s service with the department. The saga is more than adventures in catching violators and facing down sometimes unexpected risks to him and his team members – although there are plenty of those incidents. The book also is a record of focused service in areas such as water rescue, public education and matching job requirements to the evolving nature of outdoor activities in the state.

But, most importantly, Burkett captures the personalities and loyalties of the men and women with whom he worked. His respect and admiration for them comes through in chapter after chapter.

In his signed copy for me, he wrote: “Continue to make a difference.” Well, that’s exactly what Bruce did in long his service to the state. The book is a good read. Check your bookstore.


Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.