Listen to Dina Barta's Story
Everything about the outdoors was my interest. That was my home and then when I heard the term wildlife biologist, I’m like, “You’re kidding me. I could get paid to just watch wildlife. Cool!” I had talked to a game warden in high school, he told me it was too much of a dangerous job for a woman, and then I went to college. I got my degree in wildlife, and it took me five years out of college just to land a job with a fish and wildlife agency.
Dina observing a fisherman at Holmes Lake in Lincoln, Nebraska to watch for any suspicious activity. Photo by Erin McCready
I’m a conservation officer for the state of Nebraska and I’ve been one for 27 years now. Yeah, it’s been a while. And I started kind of older. I was like 31 when I became a game warden. So I wasn’t fresh out of college.
Lancaster County is my primary county, but during hunting seasons we spread out quite a bit. I’ve gone all the way from the Platte River to the Kansas border in a day during deer season, before. We wander a little further during hunting seasons. In the summer months though, Branched Oak and Pawnee become my home and I don’t get much further than that.
I grew up right on the Niobrara River and I had a huge interest in wildlife and everything to do with the outdoors. I found I was just happiest when I was always outside. But for me a day of fun would be belly crawling on a sand bar, trying to sneak up on a bird that I wanted to see what it was.
A fisherman casts his line at Holmes Lake. Photo by Erin McCready
There’s favorite things about every season. Like the spring, you get excited because people are out and there’s lots of fishing permits to check, and people are really in the outdoors, and there’s a lot of activity in the spring and the summer. Summer months… then you start getting into the boating and lots of alcohol, and that gets old really fast. That gets really old. Then it starts to slow down, come September and kids gets back in school, and you get all excited about the hunting seasons again.
Well you get into it for other reasons than being a regular law enforcement officer, but you do have regular law enforcement duties. It’s like small little cities pop up on a weekend, and you don’t know who any of your players are. It’s not like you’re a law enforcement officer in a city where you know … like you can look at an address on your computer screen, “Oh, yeah, we’ve dealt with this, this, and this person there before.”
If you didn’t have game wardens, you would have just rampant poaching. I mean people will take advantage of fish and wildlife in any way that they can. I do think it makes people honest, that otherwise might not be. It changes the way you behave outside. I don’t know if there would be anything much left if it weren’t for law enforcement in fish and wildlife.
Dina measures a crappie fish at Pawnee Lake to make sure it meets its 10-inch minimum length requirement. Photo by Erin McCready.
I think the numbers probably prove that over the years. You know I’ll see way too many geese on … too many Canada geese on a golf course, I’m like, “Yeah, I did that.” But no, I get happy, knowing that I’m a part of bringing back like the trumpeter swans. Did I actually do anything? No, but it’s because of everybody that I work with that I feel like the trumpeter swans have come back. The eagles, the bald eagles, I get really happy and really proud about that, and I know how hard my co-workers work. It’s not always the big case, it could just be driving by at the right time. I don’t know, you’ve got to put yourself out there though, and be out there.
When I first came on I was told by one old man that I was nothing more than another woman taking a good job from a good man. There are people with that attitude. Do they verbalize that? No, not always. Are there men that have tried to challenge me, and have challenged me physically even? They’re just angry. There are, and now what I’m facing now are different cultural views of immigrants that are coming into the country, and how they view whether a woman is going to tell them what to do. So, it’s interesting.
And that doesn’t even go across the board with even the same cultures. It’s little micro groups within groups that have their viewpoints, and some of them are not very pro women being out working, being in charge.
Dina hugging an old friend that she ran into while she was checking fishing licenses at Holmes Lake. Photo by Erin McCready.
I think most people don’t realize we’re actually full law enforcement officers, that we can enforce any of the laws of the state.. You know, people tell me all the time, “Oh, I wish I would have been a game warden.” Like there was no work to it, you just apply, and you become one. That’s not the way it works. It’s a very competitive field. Most of our officers have degrees in fisheries or wildlife. It’s a constant ongoing training, and it’s physically challenging. And it’s mentally challenging, but I think most people think we’re just out there, you know, walking around, checking fishing permits, and not doing much else.
I’d like people to know the reasons we do what we do, and it’s not to write a ticket. It’s not to wear a badge and a gun, it’s because we really truly believe in what we’re doing. I don’t have kids to save this world for.
Why do I do this? Why do I put myself out there? Because to me it’s important, that making sure that what we have is around for the next generation, or the generation after that, long beyond where anybody even knows who I am.
Dina’s law enforcement badge is displayed on the left shoulder of her uniform that she wears every day. Photo by Erin McCready.