2013-04-04 / Outdoors

DNR seeks more conservation officers

Above, these DNR conservation officer recruits are shown training for an ice rescue on Higgins Lake in Roscommon County. 
Photo courtesy DNR Above, these DNR conservation officer recruits are shown training for an ice rescue on Higgins Lake in Roscommon County. Photo courtesy DNR LANSING – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is stepping up its efforts to add more conservation officers to its ranks. In his 2014 budget, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed $2.9 million in ongoing General Fund money for additional COs and $600,000 in one-time general fund dollars for a CO school.

“For 125 years, Michigan conservation officers have shared and upheld a tradition of service and excellence,” said DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. “Our officers are fully commissioned peace officers who are sworn to protect Michigan’s natural resources and the citizens and visitors who cherish them,” Hagler said. “It’s really a unique class of law enforcement officer – one that’s focused on ensuring that people understand and follow regulations while enjoying outdoor recreation activities like snowmobiling, boating, hunting and fishing and protecting the natural resources where these all take place.”

Because COs are responsible for enforcing all Michigan laws (not just the ones that pertain to natural resources and outdoor recreation), they cover a lot of ground, interact with a lot of people, and, despite fairly lean ranks, make quite an impact, especially in many rural areas where local law enforcement is limited.

In 2011, Michigan COs came into contact with roughly 350,000 residents and visitors. Of those interactions, just seven percent (or 25,000) involved unlawful activity. Only about 8,000 of those contacts resulted in any actual enforcement action, a result Hagler said may surprise many.

“While I think most people respect the work that COs do, there are some who see us as only about enforcement,” Hagler explained. “In reality, we’re committed to community-oriented, customer service-based efforts that are aimed at education and voluntary compliance.

“If we have the chance to teach people the safe and correct way to do something, or why certain decisions are better for Michigan’s forests, streams and wildlife, those are the best possible outcomes for everyone.”

Because the state’s roster of conservation officers has steadily declined over the years, dropping nearly 30 percent from 243 in fiscal year 2001 to 173 in fiscal 2013, there have been some missed opportunities to connect with customers.

For new recruits and veteran COs alike, who have the chance every day to be in nature, protect Michigan’s natural resources and educate people about those resources, it’s a pretty compelling draw.

Every new officer will participate in a 22-week DNR Law Enforcement academy, followed by 18 weeks of field training in the Probationary Training Program with an additional four weeks of specialized break-out sessions in the areas of marine, off-road vehicles, fish and game, and waterfowl identification and enforcement.

Hagler said the DNR’s last conservation academy was held in 2007 and graduated 14 officers. He is hopeful the DNR will soon be able to put a much-needed crop of new COs in Michigan’s great outdoors.

“More COs on the ground means more opportunities to talk with Michigan’s outdoors men and women,” Hagler said.

“It also means faster response times on complaint calls, the ability to better patrol more area, and greater opportunity to connect with the public,” he added.

“It’s a great feeling to help a new hunter, congratulate a successful angler, or help a young person understand how their decisions have a direct effect on our natural resources.”

For the lucky individuals who take on the challenge, the chance to become a Michigan conservation officer may just be a dream come true and the start of a very rewarding career.

To learn more about the important work of Michigan’s conservation officers, visit www.michigan.gov/ conservationofficers.

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