The Saskatchewan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was first established when the federal government transferred the responsibility of the natural resources to the province on October 1, 1930, with the passing of the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement. Although the department has operated under various names since then, it is currently operated as the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, but many people still refer to it by SERM (Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management) or DNR. Throughout the years, the Ministry of Environment has been one of the most diverse and challenging departments within the Government of Saskatchewan. The accomplishments of the Ministry are numerous and are a direct result of the commitment of the countless numbers of people who have been employed by them.
Ministry personnel have been involved with the administration of crown lands and mineral resources; they devised a communications system across much of the province long before the advent of satellites and fiber optics; most of the roads built into northern communities were constructed by the Ministry of Environment, and for many years the department was responsible for municipal administration, housing, community development and welfare. They have surveyed, mapped, conducted research and completed inventories of forest, fishery and wildlife resources. They have developed and maintained provincial parks and recreation areas, fish hatcheries and forest nurseries. The Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History in Regina was administered by the Ministry of Environment for many years.
Conservation officers have been an integral part of the department since its inception. Over time, they have been referred to as rangers, wardens, game guardians and resource officers; but their priorities have always been the same – promoting the wise use and conservation of the natural resources of Saskatchewan for future generations.
As previously mentioned, Saskatchewan did not assume control of resource management activities until 1930 – 25 years after becoming a province within Canada. Prior to 1930, conservation of natural resources was entrusted to a combination of game wardens, forest rangers and assistant forest rangers employed by the Dominion Forest Service. These select few needed to be proficient in a wide array of skills, as duties ranged from building and maintaining roads, telephone lines and patrol cabins, to assisting in forest research projects, and being on the front line during forest fires.
Before 1940, radio telegraphy was used exclusively for communication; however, a radio telephone system was soon to be developed. This allowed greater communication with remote settlements in northern Saskatchewan and enabled officers to quickly mobilize man power and equipment to combat the many forest fires that would occur each summer. Resource administration in the north had been virtually nonexistent with practically no government involvement. This would change during the 1940’s, and the industries of forestry, fur, game, and fisheries were to become much more rigidly controlled. The government’s presence was made obvious by the tripling of field officers and much more emphasis on enforcement. A policy of “wise use conservation” became the slogan of the day.
By the late 1940’s, the Department of Natural Resources in Saskatchewan was in dire straits. Since taking over from the federal Department of the Interior at the start of the depression and start of WWII, the department had been seriously underfunded, lightly staffed and ill equipped. Natural resources had been seriously affected by many years of drought, haphazard use, poaching and the ravages of fire. Beaver had become so depleted in the north that a program of live trapping and relocation from the south was initiated. The hunting season for moose was closed across the province from 1944 to 1952.
In response to the situation, the minister requested a program to be developed for training new conservation officers, plus providing a refresher course for officers already in the field. The first advertisement brought in over 100 applications for the 12 trainee positions in the autumn of 1952. The Conservation Officer Training School became an unqualified success and many of its graduates would play prominent roles in the department in future years. The school ceased operations in 1959 due to an excess of graduates compared to positions available.
Conservation officers received uniforms for the first time in 1952 as well. The uniform of the day consisted of a dark green tunic and trousers, shirt, tie, belt and forage cap. Officers were not allowed to carry firearms. Aside from the uniform, nothing other than a ticket book and Game Act seems to have been provided. A Conservation Officer 1 in charge of a district was paid $167 per month.
Throughout the 1950’s to early 1970’s, resource management duties were handled by a combination of conservation officers, game management officers, patrolmen and deputy game guardians. Northern officers continued to assist with community development, social welfare, municipal services and housing. Resource duties consisted mainly of administration of the fur program, forestry, fisheries, and firefighting. Officers in the south concentrated on game and fur enforcement, wildlife surveys and assisting with park development and management.
In 1977, all enforcement officers were lumped in the “Resource Officer” title. Uniforms were changed to a rust coloured pant and yellow shirt. Enforcement of Acts and Regulations was given a very low priority during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and training was sporadic. The late 1980’s and 1990’s have seen a period of remarkable change for the conservation officers in Saskatchewan, with one of the most important improvements is the carrying of sidearms. The Saskatchewan Association of Conservation Officers has been instrumental in ensuring a high standard of safety and training is provided, as well as proper classification and appropriate wages and benefits. Conservation officers of today must meet annual training standards in defensive tactics and use of firearms.