Women in Conservation – Joann Garza-Mayberry

Women in Conservation – Joann Garza-Mayberry

Season 2 Episode 9

Joann Garza-Mayberry.jpg

UTTS: S2E9: Women in Conservation – Joann Garza-Mayberry


When you think of conservation, what comes to mind? Some of us think about turning off that light switch…


…or tightening that faucet.


Or maybe even putting less in the landfill.



But what about protecting the land and the wildlife that inhabits the different environments in our natural world? Preserving those resources for future generations is conservation.




[WARDEN] State Game Warden put the gun down now! Put it down!"

One group of conservationists who do just that, are known as Game Wardens.

[WARDEN] Step over here. You got any ID on ya?


[WARDEN] I need to see your driver’s license and your hunting license. You know what you did wrong?

[SUSPECT] No, actually I don’t.

[WARDEN] Okay. You cannot shoot off public roads in Texas. You can’t hunt off the road. And that’s what you were doing.


In Texas, Game Wardens cover over 268 thousand square miles of land and water ways, as well as 367 miles of coastline. They enforce state hunting and fishing laws, oversee boating safety, and protect our natural resources from environmental crimes. It's a tough and sometimes dangerous job. One that historically has been filled by men. But today, almost nine percent of Texas Game Wardens are women.


On the podcast we'll visit with Caldwell County Game Warden Joann Garza-Mayberry. We'll talk to her about her 16-year career in law enforcement, her love for the outdoors and her true passion for serving others. We'll also learn about her drive to educate young women about opportunities to connect with careers in conservation. Stay with us.


From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.


[JOANN] State Game Warden, how ya doin’? You catch anything?

[ANGLER] No, no. Not Yet.

[JOANN] Okay.

[ANGLER] Just put in a little while ago.

[JOANN] Do you have your license on you? Your fishing license?

[ANGLER]Yes, but I don’t have my paper on me, but I do have a current one, yes.

[JOANN] Okay. I can check it.

Joann Garza-Mayberry has been a Texas Game Warden for over 16 years. She has a calm and friendly demeanor with an enthusiasm for her profession. She credits her attitude to loving parents and a solid education in public schools, where she and her two sisters were involved in high school sports.

[JOANN] We grew up with a very strong mother who was always of the advice, we can do anything. She never separated men can do this and women can do this, or because you’re a woman don’t feel like you can’t do this. It was just, there’s nothing that you can’t do. My dad did that as well. He never separated us by gender saying you know, don’t worry about those guys, you can do the same as the guys. It was never like that. It was always, if you have a dream, stand firm with your dream.

Joann’s dad grew up as a migrant farm worker who joined the United States Army, and he would later become a high ranking chief in the San Antonio Fire Department. It was Joann's father who introduced her to the outdoors when family vacations meant loading up the van and heading out on week-long camping trips.

[JOANN] We had some property down at Medina River. We would go camping for extended periods of time. We enjoyed fishing out there, hiking out there, and that's what really triggered my love for the outdoors and conservation. It was just being brought up in the outdoors like that.


[JOANN] I think we learned a lot of lessons, you know, physically, mentally, be mentally tough to endure long hikes. Physically is where I appreciated, really learned how to swim and to become a strong swimmer that I am today to be a Texas Game Warden because we are required to be very good swimmers. We spend a lot of our time on boats on the rivers, lakes, streams of the state.

So during this impressionable period of being outdoors, did Joann ever think about about a career in conservation?

[JOANN] No not at all. In fact, I was one of those kids who didn't know what I wanted to do in high school, even my sophomore year in college I didn't even know what I wanted to major in. As a matter of fact, my bachelor's degree is in Health Care Administration because that was just something a group of girls that I was hanging out with, that's what they majored in and I just didn't know. And so even after graduating I kind of moved around in different fields because I was trying to find myself and what I enjoyed. And it's funny that the things that you enjoyed as a child, you eventually come around-about and you do that as a career. And I think that's what brings people the ultimate happiness is doing something that they genuinely enjoy where going to work doesn't feel like work.


After college Joann initially worked at a hospital and then for a large insurance company, which even afforded her the opportunity to earn her Master's degree in Business. But it didn't take Joann long to realize that the world of corporate cubicles was boring to her. Very boring she says. So what did she do?

[JOANN] I decided one day, I don't want to do this job anymore. And I give my two-week’s notice, I didn't have a job, so I started bartending at a golf resort there in San Antonio, and in bartending you have to be TABC, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, certified. I had to go through a class to become certified. And I remember thinking, that sounds very interesting. To be in a law enforcement career, but not a street officer. You know, not someone on patrol on the streets, this is like alcohol, your profession and you're a specialist at the alcohol laws. So I applied with TABC, but TABC at the time was a much smaller agency and they didn't have their own academy. So, I took a job with them as a officer while I attended a Peace Officer Academy. In that academy and working for TABC is when I met all these other law enforcement agencies. I was working down in Brownsville in the Valley. And in seeing what all these other agencies do and it's finally, you know, clicking, like this is what I'm interested in and that's when I met my first Game Warden. And so I started doing ride-alongs with Game Wardens. I'm down on the coast and it was like an eye-opening moment. Like this is the job for me. This is what I want to do. And so I completed that Peace Officer Academy and during that process actually I had applied to become a Game Warden and I was accepted, so I pretty much graduated and from that academy and then a few weeks later started at the Game Warden Academy and did it all over again. (laughs)

You can probably tell that having to go through two different law enforcement academies didn’t really bother Joann. Neither did the fact that she was only one of two women in her class at the Game Warden Academy.

[JOANN] I remember when I was a cadet going to the orientation at the Game Warden Academy, and there were 40 cadets and 2 were women, me and one other female. And, I remember thinking at that moment, like, oh this is going to be challenging. And then the other female dropped out early on. One of the academy Lieutenants came to speak to me, and he just wanted to tell me you can do this and even if you’re the only female don’t let that get to you. And I remember thinking like, he’s just wasting his breath because I’m not going anywhere, you know? And as much as I appreciated his candor and his compassion to even think like, I’m going to go talk to Garza and make sure she’s okay with this. It was just so, you know like, we’re good you know, don’t worry I’m not going anywhere. There’s nothing that’s going to take me away from graduating this academy. And I just had to have that confidence. For me, I was older, I was almost 30 years old when I went to the Game Warden Academy, so there wasn’t so much a feeling of intimidation as there was more a feeling of loneliness. There was no buddy, true buddy of the same gender who I felt like I could talk to about my experiences there. And since I was a girl's girl, that was something that I felt throughout the academy, that loneliness. But I knew that this was what I wanted to do and there was nothing that was going to change that for me.


Despite the loneliness, Joann says she felt very fortunate to be accepted by the other cadets at the academy. And over the years she's gained some company. Currently there are 44 female Game Wardens serving the state of Texas. Still, it is a male dominated career and work environment. She says learning how to communicate is an essential part of the job.

[JOANN] In my district we have two other women, which is great because I get to work with one of them who is very close by. But you just learn how to have those relationships. With my co-workers, other male Game Wardens, almost everyone I deal with is a male. In the field and hunting, the landowners you know, you learn to establish and maintain those relationships. You learn the art of conversation. And by the art of conversation you can get so far, you get so much information and intel, really to do this job you've gotta learn how to have those relationships and how to learn to communicate.

Maintaining good relationships and practicing artful conversation has served Joann well. And while most of her interactions are positive, Joann knows that public perception of a female Game Warden can vary. It’s always something she prepares for.

[JOANN] There are certain risks, you know, associated with this job. I feel like as a woman, those can be sometimes elevated just because of size in general. Women by nature have less upper body strength, so I have to do things on my own to make sure I’m maintaining myself. That I’m going above and beyond with my physical fitness. Fueling my body with the proper things so that I am somebody who can come into a situation with a professional officer presence and be able to handle that situation regardless of whether I’m a male or female, and know that my backup may be 10, 20 minutes away. Personally I’m in a one-warden county so there’s no other game warden I can call that will be here immediately. I’m calling the Sheriff’s office. And also know that there’s no shame in backing out of a situation if it involves my safety or the safety of others, and coming back with more people to ensure that whatever the situation that it’s handled appropriately.



[JOANN] 7-1-0-8 Caldwell County. 10-41-10-8

[DISPATCHER] 10-4, 7-1-0-8.

After checking in on the radio, we get to ride along with Joann on patrol. Our first stop is just a short distance from her office in Lockhart.

[JOANN] We are going to go out to this city pond and we’re going to see if anybody’s fishin’ out here. Sometimes we have problems with people netting with illegal nets. Or often times fishing without a license. And we have an angler here with several fishing poles. [Truck slows to stop and Joann gets out]

[JOANN] Hi How ya doin’? State Game Warden. Just want to check your fishing license. Do you have a fishing license?

[ANGLER] Yes maam, I’ll go get it.

[JOANN] Okay, great. So have you been out to this pond before?

[ANGLER] No, maam.

[JOANN] Oh you haven’t? Let’s see. Oh you just got it.

[ANGLER] I got hooked on bass fishing.

[JOANN] Oh did you?

[ANGLER] I’m a saltwater angler.

[JOANN] Where else have you gone?

[ANGLER] I just got up here.

[JOANN] Oh okay. Well, everything looks good then. Did you see anybody else fishin’ out here when you came out?

[ANGLER] No maam, just the guy right there.

[JOANN] The guy with the dogs over there? Yeah. Well, good luck. Have a good one.

[JOANN] Most of the interactions I have with the public are very cordial interactions because we’re out here to make sure people are doing things right. I’m hoping and anticipating they’re going to show me everything they’re doing correctly and legally. And so we just have a quick conversation and I leave them and they can continue to do their thing. [sound of getting in the truck]


From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.


Game Warden Joann Garza-Mayberry covers all of the 547 square miles of Caldwell County. She’s been on the job for 16 years and loves her work.

[JOANN] I love working in the outdoors, and that sounds cheesy, ‘cause everybody says that, but it is such an honor to be able to work where you love to be.


One of the areas Joann covers regularly creates the Southwest border of Caldwell county, the San Marcos River. With it’s natural spring-fed beauty the river is a hot spot for outdoor recreation. There’s not many motorized boats, but plenty of tubers, kayakers and canoers. There’s a lot fishing activity, but Joann says unfortunately there’s a lot of alcohol and drug activity on the river as well.

JOANN] There’s a lot of people who come out here and consume alcohol in excess. So you’re seeing people float by passed out on tubes. We have to make an effort to make sure that they’re safe because they’re publically intoxicated and I wouldn’t want anyone go down river and drown or have some horrible accident when I saw them and could’ve made an effort to get them out of the water and get them to somewhere safely. And so unfortunately I see a lot of that, a lot of people passed out on tubes because they weren’t mindfully consuming alcohol in a responsible way.

This is a spot on the San Marcos River, they have a nice little bank by the water.

Joann travels a lot for her job, but many of her destinations give a whole new meaning to the term working remotely.

[JOANN] Look at my office. Look how beautiful it is. Generally, in the summer I work right here. I stand in the water right here, and I work from the water.

The water of the San Marcos River here is crystal clear and a cool 72 degrees year-round. A mosaic of earth tone rocks visible just below the surface becomes darker as the water gets deeper toward the middle of the river. From this vantage point Joann can view everyone and everything floating by, and she doesn’t miss much.

[JOANN CON’T] Last weekend I checked a guy on a canoe. I was just making sure he had lifejackets, and the guy jumped out of his canoe to show me his lifejacket. And so when he did that I walked toward his canoe and we had a short conversation and right when he was about to leave I took a glance in his canoe and he had about eight fish in there, five of them undersize largemouth bass. [laughs] And so I hadn’t noticed a pole because there was a small net in there. He had been catching them with a net. He didn’t even have a license. He thought since he was fishing with a net he didn’t need one. So you know, checking for lifejackets turned into several other violations. So there was a little education that went on. You gotta know your bag limits.

As an aside here, Outdoor Annuals provide a summary of Texas hunting, fishing and boating regulations. Knowing ahead of time what you can and cannot harvest, and how much, can save you from being educated by citation from a Game Warden. Outdoor Annuals are available wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold or you can find it online at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

[JOANN & KAYAKER] There have been times working this river during floods where I've seen a lot of horrible things go on. And then there have been times that I see so much happiness and joy that the river brings with it's aquatic resources. The fact that there are kids out here, they're being active, they're exercising, they're learning how to swim, and then they are fishing the resource, and right now we just see a guy pull up in a kayak who’s fishing. So he doesn't see us yet, but I see him.

[JOANN] How ya doin? State Game Warden. Can you come over here please?

You catch anything?

[KAYAKER] No ma’am, not yet. I just put in a little while ago.

[JOANN] Do you have your license on you, your fishing license?

[KAYAKER] I don't have my paper on me, but I do have a current one.

[JOANN] Okay, I can check it then.....okay you live in San Marcos?

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am... Bought it at the Academy here in San Marcos.

[JOANN] Yeah you did. June 25th.

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am.

[JOANN] So you're good until June 30th of next year. Alright just make sure you carry that with you. Do you have a...

[KAYAKER] I usually do. I don't have my other, my little dry tackle box. It's just in that one. But yes ma’am, I usually carry it on me, I'm sorry for that.

[JOANN] Okay, do you have a life jacket on board?

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am, sure do, back here. Always.

[JOANN] Yeah, I see it there now. Well good deal. Okay, yeah, just make sure you have it.

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am.

[JOANN] Do you have your phone on you?

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am.

[JOANN] Do you have your phone on you?

[KAYAKER] Yes ma’am.

[JOANN] Okay you can always take a picture of it too, that’s better than not having it, you know just so you have it there. Alright well, we’ll send you on your way.

[KAYAKER] Have a good one.

[JOANN] You too. Take care.


Education is big part of Joann’s job, and one that she’s very passionate about. Especially when it comes to encouraging young women through an experience she calls The Caldwell County Girls Outdoor Event.

[JOANN] It’s only open to young girls and we have different clinics, kayaking, fishing, archery and wildlife identification. And so I want to bring those girls in young, and we just open their eyes to the outdoors.

A majority of the clinics are taught by female Game Wardens, and the event is held annually at Palmetto State Park, just South of Luling. But it’s not just the local girls who attend.

[JOANN] A lot of times we’re getting these big group of girls from the city and that’s really where I want to target, because I feel like if I had known what a Game Warden was and had seen a female Game Warden earlier on then I would have been a Game Warden at twenty-five, you know, rather than thirty, or maybe even younger than that.


Introducing young women to the outdoors may lead them to future careers in conservation, like being a Texas Game Warden. So does Joann believe there are unique qualities she brings to the table as a female Game Warden? You bet.

[JOANN] I think what sets me apart is that, and I’m not saying that men don’t have this as well, but what sets me apart is the just innate compassion, and that really comes from being a mother. So that maternal compassion you can have with people. So I can go into a contact and I can immediately have this connection with a female or with a child because we just connect that way. I can connect with any man because I can talk hunting I can talk fishing, we can talk outdoors anything. We can talk firearms you know. And so I can establish these relationships and make people feel at ease. And I think a lot of times when we as law enforcement come into a situation, it’s often that person’s worst day. And so we do whatever we can to make that day a little bit better.

Experiencing compassion on your worst day isn’t something you’re likely to forget. And that’s what Joann strives for when enforcing the law or educating the public.

[JOANN] I walk around you know, in my community and people say that’s my Game Warden. You know there’s a certain sense of pride in that. I love that I get to educate the public and I get to interact with these young children and I get to be a role model for women. You know when I first came here to Caldwell County, that year at Halloween, there were two little girls who dressed up as Game Wardens. And I thought, that would have never happened if I was a man. There were no boy Game Wardens, there were two little girls who were Game Wardens, and I thought that was like the biggest nod to me. And so it’s something I remember and it’s something I uphold is teaching these young kids the rules and the laws, and that you can be soft and kind, but you gotta know when to stand up and be firm.

We can be kind, and firm. Thanks for teaching Joann, and for being a Texas Game Warden.


What do you love about the Texas outdoors; what have you experienced that you’d like to share with the world? We’d like to hear from you—and maybe even put you on the podcast. Just go to underthetexassky.org and click on the Get Involved link tell us about your outdoor proclivities…and we’ll be in touch.


And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at UndertheTexasSky.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.

[JOANN] As a peace officer we get to do these good deeds some people rarely do, you know, we get to do them on a daily basis. And that’s a very empowering feeling to be contributing to that community. That’s something that I feel a lot of pride in.