Warden Austin Smith has been named 2021 Wildlife Officer of the Year by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He started his wildlife officer career in 2016 and has been an exceptional investigator, according to CDFW. He works in the San Diego area.
Smith’s investigations have involved many deer, wild turkey and illegal firearms violations. He also took the initiative to learn various aspects of unlawful commercial fishing, becoming highly proficient at Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel investigations. In his first six years with CDFW, he issued a total of 1,345 citations.
In addition to Warden Smith’s crime-solving skills, he has dedicated himself to supporting public safety. In late 2019, Smith participated in a multi-agency search and rescue mission at the CDFW-managed Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area in rural San Diego County.
A woman who was hiking the area had been reported missing by her husband. Smith used traditional tracking skills by following her footsteps away from her parked vehicle. Tracking is a skill lost to most of society and mastered by even fewer.
Smith followed the tracks for several miles into the wildlife area and located the injured, dehydrated and disoriented woman. Smith transported the woman back to the parking lot where she was met and treated by paramedics.
And despite his short tenure in the Law Enforcement Division, Warden Smith makes it a priority to mentor probationary wildlife officers as a POST-certified Field Training Officer. He is also a designated arrest and control instructor, TASER instructor and evidence custodian.
“Warden Smith is very deserving of this award for his contributions to protecting our precious resources and keeping the citizens of California safe,” said David Bess, CDFW deputy director and chief of the Law Enforcement Division.
The best “thank you” Warden Smith could ever receive was back in 2021 in the parking lot of the Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area.
A man approached him in the lot and not immediately recognizing him, described to Smith how he loved wildlife officers.
The man said he was extremely grateful to them as one had saved his lost wife’s life at the same wildlife area a few years earlier. That officer was indeed Warden Austin Smith.