The department was very apprehensive and fearful and acted swiftly and predictably. One of the founding officers was summoned to Regina by the Executive Director and advised that it was in their best interest not to form this association. Government was advised that the intention of SACO was not to be a sort of union, but a way to improve professionalism and morale.
In 1980, Saskatchewan Conservation Officer John Edwards travelled with a group of officers from Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington to Great Falls, Montana to form the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association. Throughout the meetings, John learned the workings of this new association. At the time, the Saskatchewan Conservation Officers were a bit of an unorganized group, with low morale and absolutely no support for the role in the form of training, equipment, or leadership; it seemed that if there was to be change, it would have to be done by the officers.
Upon returning from the meeting, John called Dave Harvey and Les Oystryk and suggested that the Saskatchewan Conservation Officers should form an association. The very first meeting was held in a residence in Glaslyn. At that meeting, it was decided to move ahead with the Saskatchewan Association of Conservation Officers (SACO), regardless of the lack of support from the department. From that point on, SACO was formed with the first three members being John, Dave, and Les. Officers were recruited from each of the 10 regions of the Department of Tourism and Renewable Resources (DTRR) and the Department of Northern Saskatchewan (DNS), which were two separate entities at the time.
In an attempt to dissuade the forming of the association, the department transferred the founding members to different parts of the province. Dave Harvey was moved from Dorintosh to Assiniboia; Les Oystryk was moved from Glaslyn to Dorintosh; John Edwards was sent from the Battlefords to Christopher Lake.
The first SACO meeting was held in Saskatoon on July 25th, 1981. The new association adopted a constitution complete with a Code of Ethics, elected executive members and appointed a secretary/treasurer. In its infancy, SACO had 91 members listed.
The constitution included the building blocks to the association that is in place today. Association objectives, membership criteria, and the Code of Ethics were adopted. Fees for members included a $5.00 one time initiation fee and an annual membership of $10.00. Three committees were also formed – Activities, Professional Standards, and Liaison.
The first SACO executive consisted of:
- President: Dave Harvey
- Vice President: John Edwards
- Secretary/Treasurer: Les Oystryk
- Regional Reps:
- Swift Current: Conrad Olsen
- Regina: Stu Golly
- Melville: Don Fenwick
- Saskatoon: Rick Wright
- Hudson Bay: Brian Wright
- Prince Albert: Tom Kenway
- Meadow Lake: Ken Ness
- Buffalo Narrows: Jack Keel
- Creighton: Dick Hutchinson
- La Ronge: Daryl Jessop
- Chair: John Edwards
- Members: Ken Messner, Hal Miller, Harvey Janke, John Pogorzelic, Ray Littlechilds, Gerry Westlake, Gene Oleksin, Bruce Reid, Kevin Misfeldt, Bob Roberts, Rob Tether, Les Olsen
- Chair: Tom Harrison
- Members: Gord Kingdon, Jack Keel, Jeff Olsen, Marlon Klassen, Ron Hlasney, Wendy Boehm, Dan Danyluk, Bill Miller, Conrad Olsen, Daryl Jessop, Doug Taylor
- Chair: Bob Plaster
- Members: Tom Laxdal, Daryl Bowen, Neil Laborde, Carl Frohaug
In the beginning, the SACO executive had some huge challenges ahead of them. Some key issues to address right away were to:
- Improve and standardize training, which was almost nonexistent;
- Improve and standardize a uniform across both departments – the current uniform was a fortrel leisure suit with a bowler hat;
- Improve vehicles and equipment as vehicles were only equipped with teardrop dash lights;
- Increase enforcement authority with regards to parks and alcohol;
- Increase staff housing quality and relocation reimbursement.
All of these issues have seen radical improvement in the past 30+ years, most notably increasing the required training standard and equipment issued, such as sidearms.
SACO also identified and improved issues such as:
- Increasing the education requirement from a Grade 8 standard (held by the Department of Northern Saskatchewan) to a two year diploma.
- Advocating for the implementation of a standardized court brief.
- Developing a night hunting survey to better understand violator profiles and methods
- Advocating for the Turn-In-Poachers program
- Advocating for minimum two officer districts
- Preparing reports on working conditions in other provinces to update department improvement
- Advocating the implementation of an “Enforcement Coordinator” position
- Successfully lobbying to have permits issued for department staff taking wildlife for scientific research
- Successfully changed “Resource Officer” to “Conservation Officer” as wildlife/forest/fish technicians were all under the same title
- Improving equipment, starting with maglites and a standardized equipment list
- Introducing an index card type intelligence management system – this was previously nonexistent
- Increasing efforts to standardize practices between the DTRR and DNS and the 10 regions, particularly in training and uniform policy
- Initiated officer hockey, golf, and shooting events to boost morale
- Increasing the classification and wages of officers