I stand before this gathering of Derek’s family, Conservation Officer family and colleagues, friends and also his current partner Nat, extremely humbled and honoured to be able to share a big part of Derek’s life with you today, which for a lot of us in the room is our work life. As Conservation Officers we chose this profession not just as a job, it is woven into the souls of who we are and what we believe in to our very cores and because of those values we are able to pour our hearts into the career that we have chosen. After years of putting the uniform on that passion never goes away and allows us to do what we love to do – catching poachers.
Derek worked for the Department for just about 34 years and was posted in many locations throughout the Province, although I think he had more Department name changes than transfers through the years. Derek started his career in May of 1984 at Cypress Hills. This is where he started that passion to catch the bad guys. This is before I knew Derek so I was interested to learn that he was the first mounted CO to work the back country of the West Block in the Hills. I didn’t think they had long enough stirrups to make that work.
Derek then transferred to Moose Jaw where he spent a few years. This is where I first met Derek as he had the unfortunate circumstance to have to supervise me and the rest of the Seasonal CO’s both years I was posted at Moose Jaw with him. As a new and young whipper snapper to the outfit I learned a lot from Derek and he was keen to test you on your knowledge, skills and abilities while riding with Him on patrol. Nothing like a 10 minute silence and then out of the blue he would look over and ask you what your powers of arrest were – then back to a 10 minute silence. Honestly I didn’t think he liked me, but as I got to know him I learned that he could be a man of few words sometimes and could have a quiet nature about him. I came to learn that when he spoke you paid attention and learned.
From Moose Jaw Derek started to work his way north and ended up in Candle Lake. He became part of the infamous “Twin Towers” team with Quinn Risom. Between them I think they were a total of 14 feet tall or something like that. While working in Candle Lake in 1994 Derek was co-recipient of the Conservation Officer of the Year Award. I remember listening to the presentation when it was given to him and a big part of that award was because of a large investigation that Derek was one of the lead investigators for. His doggedness and determination was the poachers undoing in the end, and I know he spent a large part of his time tracking down the poachers for interviews and interrogations and in the end caught them all in their lies. I was fortunate to witness that doggedness and determination on several occasions while working alongside him in our personal adventures together as partners – although I don’t think they referred to us as the “Twin Towers”. That determination and never quit attitude on a file of importance recently showed up again in the past couple months when Derek successfully convicted an arson fire suspect of starting fires during the fire bust in 2015. Another great file partner.
The north kept calling him further and further and in May of 1995 Derek landed in the beautiful northern posting of Pinehouse Lake. This is also the place that he had the good fortune of being partnered up again with me. We immediately made a great team and did a ton of work together in Pinehouse. That summer of ’95 was probably the worst fire year I have ever witnessed, yes I think even worse than 2015. Back then CO’s ran the fire programs and Derek jumped in with both feet and took on a leadership role on the Tippo Fire as one of the Sector Bosses. I have a couple of vivid memories of Pinehouse and working with Derek. One was me showing Derek part of the district shortly after he arrived and we were on a boat patrol to Sandfly Lake and on to Needle Falls. The water on the Churchill River was very high that year and running the rapids leaving Sandfly Lake was easier that year than most years – on the south side. Because of the high water I had heard the locals were running them now on the north side. Well coming back from Needle Falls and heading back to town we surveyed the rapids and at the last second I decided to try the north side, just because. Big mistake, the boat tipped up on one side and quickly swamped and turned back downstream, luckily gunnels up. We were able to pull over to shore, collect ourselves and bail the boat out. We made it up the rapids easily the next try – on the south side. I will never forget the look in his eyes when that boat flipped up like that. Good thing there was no such thing as a near miss back then. I have had a couple of adventures at that set of rapids over the years, right Brad. The other patrol was a skidoo patrol where we set out at 0600 in the morning to travel to the north part of Pinehouse District to catch up with one of our bad guy commercial fishermen who we thought was playing a few games. After checking a few of the lakes he was supposed to be at we eventually learned that he was on Highrock Lake. It was getting late in the day but we decided we had better go and try to catch up with him and see what he was up to – so off we went. It was March and there was a ton of snow and we were always one step behind the fisherman. The fisherman was breaking trail with a big old double tracked Alpine skidoo and the trail had not setup yet behind him. We could not keep our sleds on the trail and kept falling off to one side or the other. The snow was up to here on me off the trail – which for Derek was up to about here, and each time we fell off we had to fight like crazy to get our snowmachines back up onto the trail and keep going without getting stuck. A couple of belts later and a lot of sweat we made it back to the truck and home to Pinehouse at around 0100 in the morning. We never did catch up with the fisherman………until later.
From Pinehouse Derek could not bring himself to leave the North and transferred to his current posting in La Ronge in April of 2001. A common theme evolved as he was again re-united with guess who – yup me. Although I don’t think that was entirely the reason he transferred to La Ronge. What I can tell you was that he absolutely fell in love with the north and all it had to offer for both work and personal life. Derek spent the past 17 years of his career in La Ronge and I believe had plans to retire and make his home here after he retired. This has become his home, where his kids grew up and where he has put the fear in a lot of poachers in his time patrolling the vastness of the area. I have many stories of Derek at Patrol Cabins and other places that are not fit to tell in this great church and a ton of great memories working with and laughing with Derek. You always made sure you had an extra Gatorade along for him when he got dehydrated and curled up in a ball in pain rolling around on the floor with the cramps, that and maybe some granola too. Some recent La Ronge stories involve the time a couple years ago when himself and a junior officer went off in April on quads to chase some fish traffickers and their quads broke through the ice. They were able to get out and everyone was Ok but I think the helicopter bill was $7000 to save a couple of quads that were worth about half that amount. I remember hearing that they had gone through the ice while I was attending a SACO convention and Brad and I both looked at each other and said – Head Lake Channel. Derek also became a TV celebrity of sorts appearing in a couple episodes of the TV show Fish Camp which highlighted a local outfitter, but allowed us to show some of the work that COs did in the area. He looked pretty good patrolling in that boat on Otter Lake.
Along the way in his career Derek took on a passion for training and passing on his knowledge and skill set through that training. Over the years he became more and more involved in training and for the past several years he was the lead Defensive Tactics instructor for the Ministry. He took this role and the safety of the rest of us CO’s across the Province seriously and spent a lot of time researching and developing lesson plans that have served to keep us safe doing our jobs all across the Province. Through that time Derek also served as a Firearms Instructor and a Boat Course Instructor. He was always willing to mentor and pass on his knowledge.
As Conservation Officers we are a part of “THE THIN GREEN LINE”. This refers to game wardens across the globe doing our part to help protect the important green spaces and our precious natural resources. I am very proud to have been able to serve and protect that thin green line with Derek personally. Even the day before Derek passed he was out on a snowmobile protecting our resources on one of my favourite routes in the area – La Ronge to Morning Lake. We as CO’s should never lose focus of protecting that. We have a lot of challenges that we are currently facing and some major potential changes in our duties but for you young COs especially in the room that wear the uniform, I want you to always remember we are GAME WARDENS first and foremost and don’t ever lose that passion for what our focus should be, which is protecting this Provinces Natural Resources, and I know that Derek would not want us to lose that focus.
On behalf of the Ministry of Environment, the Saskatchewan Association of Conservation Officers and Game Wardens everywhere I wish to pass on my sincerest condolences to Derian and Taylor and Derek’s family, as well as Derek’s current partner Nat, who I am proud to say was also a Conservation Officer prior to leaving to teach new Conservation Officers at Sask Polytechnic in Prince Albert. I want you to know that once you put that uniform on, you and your family are a part of Game Warden families everywhere and we are there for you today and into the future.
Thank you Derek for your service and friendship.
Written by Cal Schommer.