A conservation officer is a law enforcement officer who protects wildlife and the environment. A conservation officer may also be referred to as an environmental technician or technologist, game warden, forest ranger, gamekeeper, investigator, wilderness officer, wildlife officer, or wildlife trooper. In Canada, all of these fall under the rubric of National Occupational Classification code 2224.
Conservation officers can be traced back to the Middle Ages (see gamekeeper). Conservation law enforcement goes back to King Canute who enacted a forest law that made unauthorized hunting punishable by death. In 1861, Archdeacon Charles Thorp arranged purchase of some of the Farne Islands off the north-east coast of England and employment of a warden to protect threatened seabird species. The modern history of the office is linked to that of the conservation movement and has varied greatly across the world.
History in New York State
Conservation officers in New York State are known as "environmental conservation officers", or ECOs. The position was created in the late nineteenth century. Originally, they were known as "game protectors". The first game protectors recorded comprised a group of eight men authorized to arrest anyone who killed wildlife on protected land. Their job was to protect game and catch poachers. They also chose to protect streams from pollution. In 1960, their title was changed to "conservation officers", then in 1970, they were renamed "environmental conservation officers", after the Conservation Department and the State Health Department merged to become the "Department of Environmental Conservation". At the same time, the role's status was changed, giving ECOs more legal power than they had previously had.
Conservation officers generally have a degree in areas specific to criminal justice, fish and wildlife management, recreation management, wildlife resources, or a science major related to these. Most start out their careers as a trainee under the supervision of an experienced conservation officer. After graduation and completion of the trainee program, many go on to law enforcement training to become a peace officer. In America, conservation officers must also take and pass the state civil service exam for ECOs.
Recognizing the wardens' roles
As noted at the North American Game Warden Museum, confronting armed poachers in rural and even remote locations can be lonely, dangerous and even fatal work for game wardens. Recognition of the ultimate sacrifice of these officers at this museum is considered to be important, concomitant to recognition at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Officers are exposed to other risks beyond being killed by hunters, trappers and armed fishermen. Motor vehicle, boating, snowmobile and airplane accidents, animal attacks, drowning, and hypothermia are other risk they face while on duty.
In North America game wardens are typically employees of state or provincial governments. 26 of the 50 U.S. states have government departments entitled Department of Natural Resources or a similar title. These departments typically patrol state or provincial parks and public lands and waterways dedicated to hunting and fishing, and also enforce state or provincial game and environmental laws on private property.
Game wardens/conservation officers are front and center in keeping out (or in check) invasive species.
In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, their concerns are much more comprehensive than local enforcement. They also enforce broader conservation laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and similar laws/treaties. or the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (in Canada) which implements the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna As necessary, they will work in tandem with appropriate national or federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Environment Canada.
Conservation officers by region
- Alaska State Troopers
- Arizona Game and Fish Department
- California Department of Fish and Game
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife
- Connecticut State Environmental Conservation Police
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Law Enforcement
- Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Law Enforcement Division
- Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
- Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries – Enforcement Division
- Maine Warden Service
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police
- Massachusetts Environmental Police
- Michigan Conservation Officers
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Enforcement Division
- Missouri Department of Conservation
- Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
- Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police
- New York State Forest Rangers
- New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
- North Carolina Marine Patrol
- North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
- Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
- Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
- Pennsylvania Game Commission
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
- Utah, Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
- Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of State Parks
- Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife
- West Virginia Natural Resources Police
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Wyoming Fish and Game Warden service
- "OCCinfo - Conservation Officer". Alis.alberta.ca. Retrieved 2012-08-05.
- Clark, Levi (2017). Conservation Law Enforcement. Create (McGrawHill). ISBN 9781308653655.
- Huss 2009, p. 15.
- Huss 2009, p. 13.
- "North American Game Warden Museum". Gamewardenmuseum.org. Retrieved 2014-03-14.
- Johnson, Kirk (December 6, 2010). "In the Wild, a Big Threat to Rangers: Human". New York Times. Golden, Colorado. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- Fallen Officers, Michigan Conservation Officers Association. Archived 2009-04-29 at the Wayback Machine
- North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association, lists of Canadian and American officers lost while on duty, 1980 to present. Archived January 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- "Hall of Shame, Wyoming Outdoors Radio". Wyomingoutdoorsradio.com. Archived from the original on 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2014-03-14.
- CITES Vigilance, Alberta Game Warden Magazine, October, 1999. Archived March 1, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
- "North Carolina Marine Patrol". ncdenr.org.
- "Law Enforcement". Wyoming Fish and Game Warden service.
- Huss, Timothy (2009). "Outdoor Office". New York State Conservationist. 64 (2): 12–15.
- Lawson, Helene M. (2003). "Controlling the Wilderness: The Work of Wilderness Officers". Society & Animals. 11 (4): 329–351.
- "Warden Trainee". Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
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