Conservation Officer finds work rewarding

EDITOR: During the past year, several of my friends and family members have asked me why I donate personal time handling nuisance wildlife and enforcing the Game and Wildlife Code as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer (DWCO) for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

I always had a tremendous fascination with the outdoors, a deep appreciation for wildlife and a firm belief that without a management plan, diligent implementation, follow up and enforcement, many of our important wildlife species would disappear from the Commonwealth.

Few might understand that many of the animal species we now take for granted vanished from Penn's Woods by the early 1900s. Unregulated harvests and market hunting took a great toll. Careful and diligent reintroduction efforts years ago, now make it possible for us to pursue trophy whitetails and enormous elk.

Whether working with wildlife (beaver and bear trapping are my personal favorites) or pursuing game violators, the level of excitement, enjoyment and satisfaction is not easily described. At times, it's downright freezing, but the adrenaline squelches any sense of uncomfortableness. At times, I should probably be terrified, but the training by and support from some of the best full time Conservation Officers in the country instills confidence.

There are several steps that must be taken prior to becoming a DWCO. After an extensive background check and basic exam, ride-alongs with a full-time Wildlife Conservation Officer begin. This experience gives candidates a feel for the job and gives WCOs an opportunity to get to know individuals they might be working with in the future. There are firearms skills, defensive tactics, and legal update training that need to be completed and demonstrated with proficiency. Verbal skills also are an important part of the curriculum. Most law-enforcement encounters take a positive path when officers can communicate, calmly, respectfully and effectively.

Deputy training culminates with a week at the Ross Leffler School of Conservations in Harrisburg. The instructors are top-notch and the accommodations are first rate. The education is eye-opening and extensive, the food excellent and plentiful.

Training as a DWCO never really ends. With each day comes a new and interesting event or challenge. Fortunately, the support network is extensive, highly educated and very well-seasoned. Although a DWCO may sometimes work alone, backup is almost always nearby.

In order to preserve the rich hunting and trapping tradition that our forefathers enjoyed, effort is continually needed. If you are passionate about wildlife and want to see it thrive and prosper, consider becoming a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Office. Please do no turn your back and leave it up to others. I won't kid you, the pay stinks. However, the rewards are unbelievable.

Michael Scott

DWCO, Sullivan County