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Game wardens enact Operation Dry Water for July Fourth, share outdoor passions

FRANK BLUNDETTO
Posted at 5:04 PM, Jul 05, 2024

CARBON COUNTY — During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Montana game wardens at Cooney Reservoir are participating in Operation Dry Water, a year-round national boating under the influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement campaign by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).

“You’re allowed to have open containers in vessels, but you’re still not allowed to operate under the influence or while you’re impaired," said Frank Blundetto, a Cooney Reservoir game warden.

He explained that the game wardens' main objective is to be seen by the public, and their presence is a reminder for those outdoors to "check and police themselves."

Most of the approximately 3,000 hours on the water by wardens like Blundetto and Heaton are spent on considerably small issues such as assisting Luke Oellermann remove his tent from the reservoir after it was blown into the water by wind.

“Our most frequent interaction is just a general license check," said Matthew Heaton, a Cooney Reservoir game warden.

Larger incidents do occur, however, like when 62-year-old Billings resident Mark Young was involved in a jet ski crash on Saturday or when one family's boat recently capsized.

“The wind picked up and it was a pretty good wind storm," said Blundetto, looking towards the vessel still partly submerged on Thursday. "The waves were large enough that they were actually coming over the side."

Last year, Montana game wardens issued nearly 500 warnings and more than 200 citations, though they say their passion for their work comes from a love for the outdoors.

“Those are the things I want to do with my time off: hunt fish, camp, take other people,” said Blundetto.

The two Montana game wardens emphasized the idea that spaces like Cooney Reservoir are public and meant to be shared.

“It’s unique to America of – y’know, it belongs to all of us," said Heaton, "if somebody’s not looking after it and making sure everyone plays by the same rules, things can get abused real easily and then we lose privileges, we lose opportunity.”