Conservation Officers have been protecting the resources in Saskatchewan since the 1930’s. Prior to this, the Federal Government and its own Federal Wildlife Officers were responsible for this protection. In 1930, the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement Act was signed, giving Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan the responsibility to manage their own natural resources.
The job description of the Conservation Officer has evolved since the 1930’s. The traditional roles of conducting fisheries and wildlife compliance checks (including commercial fishing and trapping) are still a major component of the job, but environmental inspections and investigations (including shoreline alteration, aquatic invasive species and unlawful dumping and burning, just to name a few), wildfire investigations, and Provincial Park enforcement are also prominent duties that are steadily increasing. Of course, the day to day responsibilities vary greatly depending on location in the Province.
Conservation Officers are uniformed field staff; responsible for the protection of the environment and making sure natural resources are used wisely. While their primary role is environmental law enforcement, they are appointed and have the authority of police officers, able to enforce the Criminal Code, Alcohol and Gaming Regulations, Traffic Safety Act, among others. Conservation Officers are kept busy enforcing their own mandated legislation such as The Wildlife Act, 1998, The Fisheries Act (Saskatchewan), 1994, and The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010 to name a few. Non-enforcement related duties include resource management work (ex. wildlife surveys), building public relations through presentations at schools, job fairs and trade shows, attending stakeholder meetings, and promoting healthy environments and ecosystems. Conservation Officers often work outdoors, frequently in isolated and wilderness locations.
Today’s Conservation Officers are well educated. A two year diploma in a resource based law enforcement program from a recognized post-secondary institution is the standard minimum, with many of our officers having a four year degree. Candidates must then undergo a rigorous screening process to gain employment – applicants must pass the Physical Ability Requirement Evaluation (PARE) test, a psychological assessment, and a criminal record check all prior to the verbal interview. This will only allow the candidate to be hired as a seasonal Conservation Officer, whose primary responsibilities are park enforcement in one of Saskatchewan’s beautiful provincial parks. Here, the young officer will gather experience and develop skills while under the supervision of a Conservation Officer. After two seasons of probation, seasonal Conservation Officers will be eligible to apply for a full time position, where they have to start the entire hiring process again. Seasonal Conservation Officers will typically work two to five summers before getting hired. This is quite the decrease from five to ten summers 15 years ago! If successful, the candidate will be sent to the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy (WCLEA) for 16 weeks of training with recruits from Alberta, BC, Manitoba and the Yukon to prepare them for the career they have chosen.
All Conservation Officers are required to meet provincial training standards as set by the Saskatchewan Police Commission, which includes annual certification in defensive tactics, and proficiency in the use of their sidearm and shotgun. This certification is on par with other law enforcement agencies across the Province. As a result of their education, training, and high entrance standards, Saskatchewan Conservation Officers are highly qualified, well-trained and experienced officers, recognized as experts in their field and as professional law enforcement officers.
In Saskatchewan, there are 44 staffed field offices within 7 compliance areas. Each area is managed by 1 Inspector. Within those 44 field offices, 19 Sergeants supervise the 94 Conservation Officers who patrol all corners of the Province. Assisting all of these officers is a K9 unit, a Special Investigations Unit, and a Training and Education Unit.
The field offices are the main contact point for much of the public. Conservation Officers and the Customer Service Representatives answer inquiries, requests and complaints. The officers and staff are often the main liaison between the public and the various branches within the Ministry of Environment (Fish, Wildlife and Lands, Fire Management).