Just how prevalent is the wildlife poaching problem in America today? This prevalent: During a four-day roadblock near Echo Junction recently, game wardens seized more than half a ton of ill-gotten fish and game and issued citations or warnings to one out of every four people who had been hunting or fishing.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to Greed & Wildlife: Poaching in America (7 p.m., Ch. 7), the National Audubon Society special that opens the series' season on PBS tonight. With footage and information that is surprisingly gruesome for this gentle wildlife series, the episode effectively makes a startling point.Our national wildlife resources are at risk.

Black bears are being killed for the paws and gall bladders. Cougars and eagles are being mounted as trophies. Geese are being killed by the hundreds - just for the sport of it. (One troubling piece of the episode features videotape of eight Louisiana poachers shooting 155 geese in just minutes.)

According to the Audubon special, there are a couple of primary reasons for the surge in illegal taking of American wildlife. First, narrator Richard Chamberlain explains, there's money to be made. The mounted head of a bighorn sheep can bring as much as $10,000 on the black market. Certain Asian folk medicines require elk antlers, and practitioners will pay as much as $100 a pound for antlers still in the growing stage. Similarly, some Koreans will pay as much as $5,000 for a black bear's gall bladder, which they feel is a "cure-all."

"Until recently, when one poacher received a 15-year jail sentence, the payoffs for poaching were apparently worth violating the law," Chamberlain says.

The other factor contributing to the problem is a simple one: manpower. With only 207 agents to cover all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, it's kind of tough to monitor all of America's 17 million licensed hunters - not to mention the illegal poachers, many of whom aren't even licensed hunters. One game warden here in Utah patrols a 2,800-square-mile region - larger than the entire state of Delaware.

"The agents are something of an endangered species themselves," Chamberlain observes. And not because nobody wants the job. One Fish & Wildlife official reports that a recent advertisement for 20 job openings drew more than 400 applicants. It's just that there isn't sufficient funding to expand the staff significantly.

Still, "Greed & Wildlife" is able to report some progress being made in efforts to protect American wildlife. Stiffer penalties are increasing the risk, and therefore cutting the incidence somewhat. And a public that wants to see the nation's wildlife resources preserved is exerting some pressure on the poachers.

"Commercial-market hunters take the biggest and the best out of the animal population, and it has an effect genetically," one officials explains. "The whole point is to make sure there is something left for tomorrow, for your kids and mine."

-POWER. That's democracy's bottom line, as far as Canadian reporter Patrick Weston is concerned.

"There's a lot of different notions (of democracy) out there," Weston says near the beginning of The Struggle for Democracy (11 p.m., Ch. 11), a 10-part series that begins on KBYU tonight. "But I think they're all talking about the same thing finally: power. It's about who has the power in the end - not the state, not some strong man, but the people."

It's an interesting thought, especially in light of recent events in China and the Soviet Union. And the series - or at least as much of it as I've seen - does a good job of substantiating and illustration the concept.

But there's a big drawback here: timeliness. It's not Weston's fault that student uprisings in China and huge democratic stride in the Soviet Union came along after his series was finished. But it does tend to give the series a dated feeling. In a way it's sort of like watching a 1988 special on America's energy future. If you can't at least talk about the possibility of cold fusion's you're missing an important element of the story.

Still, there's much to admire here, especially with Weston's retelling of the evolution of democracy as we know it. There are striking images of different democratic forms, and allusions to key moments in the history of democracy past and present.

If only there were a little more present to its past.