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FWP warden captain has Flathead roots

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | November 21, 2022 12:00 AM

Despite growing up hunting, fishing and ambling around the local wilderness, Flathead native Nathan Reiner only became interested in pursuing a career as a game warden after working alongside them as a trooper with Montana Highway Patrol.

“Since I was a little kid I wanted to be in law enforcement,” Reiner recalled from behind his desk inside Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 1 Headquarters in Kalispell. “When I found out I could do that and be in the woods, I thought, ‘that’s pretty cool. I’ll do that.’”

Reiner, who was named warden captain for Region 1 this past July, can’t recall too many interactions with wildlife officials during his childhood in the valley. Thinking about it for a moment, that’s likely why becoming a game warden took so long to occur to him. With an easy smile, he said he doesn’t remember getting into much trouble.

A 1992 graduate of Flathead High School, he left Montana for Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he earned a degree in criminal justice. From there, he joined Highway Patrol. In Montana’s small towns, the law enforcement community forms tight bonds never mind the agency, Reiner said. Working with FWP game wardens, he got to know about their job duties and routines. He could also keep tabs on their adventures over the radio. The ever-changing nature of the job appealed to him, as did a position that would take him outdoors.

“Every season the job changes,” he said. “You’re never doing the same thing very long.”

Early in the year, the focus is on trapping and snowmobile regulations before the focus shifts to ice fishing, he said. Spring hunting, which includes black bear and turkey seasons, follows soon after. Then comes Memorial Day and the action is on the region’s busy lakes.

“Before you know it, it’s Labor Day and then hunting season starts,” Reiner said. “Every season you’ve got a little bit of a different job.”

AFTER SEVEN years as a Highway Patrol trooper, Reiner made the leap to FWP. He found himself in the Baker area, which helped give him an appreciation of the differences of the state’s regions.

“It’s a totally different job on one side of the state from the other,” he said.

Region 7 drew in a lot of out-of-town hunters looking for antelope and mule deer, Reiner recalled. Hunting season was a busy time. Contrast that with Flathead Valley, which tends to be busiest in the summer, when the region’s lakes are a popular destination.

“It was a totally different job from there to here,” he said.

Reiner happily returned to the Kalispell area in 2006. Coming home also aided in his law enforcement work. Wardens rely heavily on the community to pass along information, a relationship Reiner emphasized repeatedly. In Northwest Montana, Reiner was already plugged in, coming back to the valley with long standing connections and ties.

“It’s been a blessing,” he said.

And despite the potential for run-ins with familiar faces, it hasn’t happened too often, he said.

“I haven’t had too many awkward situations with people I grew up with doing something wrong,” Reiner said. “I still get that once in a while: ‘Didn’t we go to high school together?’”

Originally working as a game warden, Reiner became a Kalispell area sergeant in 2012. Sergeants work with several wardens, he said, and spend the bulk of their time out in the field.

Becoming warden captain means spending a bit more time in the office, he admits, but it gives him the opportunity to look at the big picture. His day-to-day work includes keeping up with law changes, getting to the bottom of legal questions and keeping his team out in the field well informed. Reiner pointed to a major change in the state’s wolf hunting owing to a recent court order as one such example. One of the affected regions, Wolf Management Unit 110, borders Glacier National Park and saw its quota reverted back to 2020 levels.

“A lot of the time is spent researching the law,” he said. “It’s making sure we’re writing the right tickets and keeping the wardens up on the law.”

That includes keeping up with training and making sure his team has the resources they need to cover a wide and ranging stretch of terrain, he said. Along with game wardens and their sergeants, Reiner also oversees a criminal investigator tasked to the region.

With FWP and Region 1 still understaffed — those interested in following Reiner’s lead should check the agency website in the coming months for job postings — he still gets opportunities to go out into the field. His day-to-day duties have largely changed, but he’s still serving others, he said.

“The way I look at it in this job, I got into it to serve and protect the public and the resources,” Reiner said. “Now my job has changed to serve the wardens under me.”

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.

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