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THE ROLE OF THE CONSERVATION OFFICER
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- from Saskatchewan Game Warden Magazine, Fall 2005

SASKATCHEWAN ENVIRONMENT (SE) has nearly 800 full time employees and several hundred part time staff dedicated to meeting this mandate. However, the purpose of this article is to discuss one group of SE employees, the Conservation Officers (CO's) and their role in meeting this important mandate.

Prior to 1930, the Federal government and its own federal wildlife officers protected Saskatchewan's natural resources. In 1930, the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement moved responsibility for the resources to the province. Thus, shortly thereafter, the first Saskatchewan “Game Warden” was hired.

The traditional role most of the public associate with Saskatchewan Conservation Officers is that of checking hunters and anglers, working in provincial parks and helping to extinguish forest fires. While these roles still exist for the modern Conservation Officer, job duties have diversified a great deal over the past 75 years.

Today's Conservation Officers are well educated: most will have taken 2 or 4 years of post-secondary education in a resource based law enforcement program. Candidates must then undergo a rigorous screening process to begin employment: first an hour-long verbal interview, then a practical identification examination and a written test to measure their analytical abilities and spelling and grammar skills. They must pass a criminal record check, a physical fitness test and finally a psychological examination. Prospective Conservation Officers then have their references contacted, for a final verification of their skills and talents.

Approximately 52 successful applicants are then hired for seasonal employment in one of Saskatchewan’s provincial parks for 17 weeks running from May to September. Once they pass the mandatory probation period, the seasonal Conservation Officers are eligible to apply for full-time employment.

During their terms at the provincial parks, which may cover 8 to 10 summers, the Seasonal Conservation Officers often transfer to other locations, or perform temporary assignments, to acquire the necessary “on the job” skills that will allow them to move into a permanent, full time CO position.

All Conservation Officers are required to meet provincial standards as set by the Saskatchewan Police Commission, which includes annual certification in defensive tactics, verbal judo skills and proficiency with their shotguns and pistols. The CO's are qualified and recognized as full peace officers in Saskatchewan.

Officers are expected to undergo continuous education in resource management and other in-service training programs. Annual mandatory training is set at a minimum of 3.5 days to meet the standards as established by Cabinet. Most officers are recognized as team players with excellent people skills and are always dedicated to the Department mandate. The officers are well known for their no-nonsense, straightforward manner is which they solve problems, whether it is an enforcement problem, deer in a haystack, or otherwise.

As a result of their education, training and high entrance standards, Saskatchewan Conservation Officers are highly qualified, well trained and very experienced. The public recognizes the CO's as experts in resource and environmental issues and their peers in other law enforcement capacities recognize them as professional resource law enforcement officers.

In Saskatchewan, there are 52 Field Offices strategically located across the province, which includes 7 Compliance Managers and 20 Compliance Area Specialists. In addition, another 17 officers fulfill specialty enforcement roles in Prince albert and Saskatoon .

The Field Offices are the main contact point for much of the Saskatchewan public, and officers and the Customer Service Representatives answer inquiries, requests and complaints. In addition, the officers and staff are the main liaison between the public and the various SE branches and the programs delivered by those branches.
As mentioned, the role of the Conservation Officer has changed somewhat over the years. However, one thing that has not changed is the variety of duties performed. Each day can bring new challenges, and each part of the province can create its own type of work. It goes without saying there is not much forestry work in the south and not many antelope hunters in the north.

Arguably, the main role of Conservation Officers is law enforcement of the multitude of Acts and Regulations for which Saskatchewan Environment is mandated. Certainly, within each branch, there are duties performed by officers that are not related to law enforcement, but while other staff may perform some of the other functions, only the CO's are tasked with the investigating of any situation for possible prosecution.

There are three elements to the Compliance Model, which governs the enforcement actions of the officers: Education, Prevention and Active Enforcement. The majority of the officer's time in the Compliance Model is in the education and prevention portions, with active enforcement taking up only a small portion of the officer's time.

In this magazine, there are many stories about the work the Conservation Officers perform on a daily basis, so this will be just a summary:

  • Fire Management and Forest Protection
  • Initial Attack on Southern Crown lands
  • Assist in forest fire suppression effort
  • Take Smokey Bear into schools and public education programs
  • Wild land fire investigations (arson investigations)

Provincial Parks

  • Provide public information on many aspects of the park on a daily basis
  • Respond to complaints or inquiries
  • Assist in the safety and security of thousands of park visitors
  • Protection of park property and assets
  • Assist in park resource issues like grazing, haying, trapping, nuisance wildlife, vegetation management

Forest Protection

  • Harvest inspections: monitor for illegal harvesting
  • Compliance checks of transportation and sale of forest products (restrict movement of pine beetle: a real threat to the ecosystem)
  • Dissemination of information on Dutch Elm Disease

Crown Land Protection

  • Inspection of outfitter camps
  • Prevent trespass on Crown land
  • Monitoring of 1.5 million acres of Wildlife Habitat Protection Act lands
  • Issuing of haying and grazing permits on certain Crown Lands
  • Issuing of lands disposition permits on certain Crown Lands
  • Monitoring of oil, natural gas and seismic activity on certain Crown Lands

Environmental Protection

  • Landfill Compliance (no burning)
  • Responding to all spills, and ensure clean up is completed
  • Responding to illegal dumping or storage of waste hazard goods
  • Monitoring recycle initiatives for compliance (used tires, oil, SARCAN)
  • Monitor waste sewage haulers
  • Assist in inspections of underground fuel storage tanks
  • Collection of samples (e.g.: water samples) for provincial standards
  • Assist in monitoring of municipal drinking water and sewage systems

Education and Public Related

  • Conduct school presentations (career days, endangered species, etc.)
  • Attend hunter education-firearm safety classes and give presentations
  • Attend a multitude of public meetings
  • Consultation with members of the public on various issues
  • Work with First Nations peoples on many of the Dept. initiatives as they relate to First Nations peoples

Fish and Wildlife Protection

  • Field monitoring and reporting of species at risk (e.g.: Burrowing Owls, Ferruginous Hawks)
  • Assist landowners with nuisance wildlife problems (depredation, predation)
  • Assist with stocking of fish on certain lakes
  • Shoreline Alteration: issue permits, compliance inspections
  • Respond to reports of injured and orphaned animals
  • Assist Branch personnel with wildlife surveys
  • Respond to reports of sick and diseased wildlife and fish
  • Assistance to program staff on major diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease, and formerly West Nile Virus
  • Compliance Checks of hunters and anglers
  • Administer lure crops, bait stations and feed stations
  • Roadside Inspections, airport and border checks
  • Use of Controlled Wildlife Models (wildlife decoys) to assist with public safety
  • Night Patrols for the apprehension of illegal hunters
  • SE also has a Canine Unit and a Special Investigations unit to assist CO's

Conservation Officers in Saskatchewan also may serve on a variety of internal and external boards, including local Northern Fur Councils, Commercial Fishermen Cooperatives, South Saskatchewan River Technical Advisory Committee, Chronic Wasting Disease Advisory committee, The Great Sandhills Planning Commission, and so on.

Saskatchewan CO's contribute to a Resource Intelligence Program, which is considered the best in North America. It collects data on violators, which enhances officer safety in the field, allows sharing of information with other enforcement agencies and can produce suspect's previous violation data to the courts.

Conservation Officers respond to calls of all sorts. Most times, members of the public will call the conservation officers at their office or even at home. But, additionally, the provincial dispatch center will direct nearly 5,000 calls annually to the officers in the field, in the form of Turn in Poacher calls, Spill reports, and Park Watch.

Saskatchewan Conservation Officers are well respected across North America as well. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction to have two officers serve as President of the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association (NAWEOA), and is also one of only three jurisdictions to have hosted two annual NAWEOA conferences. Besides the Saskatchewan Game Warden magazine, which is distributed to readers' world wide, Saskatchewan also is home to the editor of the International Game Warden magazine. Saskatchewan officers have served as Presidents of the Association of Natural Resource Enforcement Trainers and the Canadian Chiefs of Resource Law Enforcement. Finally, Saskatchewan Conservation Officers have traveled across North America giving guest presentations at conferences and training sessions.

This article does not represent every task of every Conservation Officer in Saskatchewan, but it does serve to illustrate how multifaceted today's officers are.

In the coming weeks, in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Science Center, a weekly “blog” Internet site is being proposed, in which a handful of CO's from around the province will be sharing their duties and challenges with those who log onto the web site. In conclusion, the public expects officers to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The public wants to ensure there is a sustainable resource base and that the environment is protected. The public wants an effective education and deterrent program, but at the same time, they want the violators punished. The public wants their Conservation Officers to be in the field, and experts in their area.

On behalf of the Conservation Officers of Saskatchewan, let me assure the readers that the officers are well aware of the public needs and demands and do their best every day to meet their expectation. 


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Forerunners of the modern day conservation officer, Provincial Game Guardians patrolled vast areas of Saskatchewan at the turn of the century. They traveled on snowshoes, or by dog train, saddle horse or team, canoes and boats, and when necessary by freight train.

Our site is dedicated to those that have gone before us, those who currently carry the badge and those that will follow in our footsteps.

 

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