Vantage Point

A Tribute to Conservation Agents

Nearly 5 percent of all conservation officers in North America will be in St. Louis this month for the annual North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association meeting. We are proud they have chosen to visit our great state. I had the pleasure of attending their 1997 meeting in Colorado, where the Missouri Conservation Agents Association and I offered Missouri as a future meeting place. The Missouri association, led by presidents Gordon Jarvis and John Hart, deserve a pat on the back for the time and energy they spent pulling together this event.

In addition to the serious business of the meeting, an annual ritual is played out among competing teams. "The Warden Games" are a series of torturous physical and mental tests of legendary game warden skills. Our Missouri teams--male and female--were solid performers in Colorado, but the "home-state" events of mule packing and hay stack paneling put them at a slight disadvantage. It's likely the Missouri games will require some unique skills that would offer our conservation agents a similar home court advantage.

Other stories in this month's issue remind you that not all conservation agent activities are routine. Danger and challenge are inherent in the job. Annual statistics gathered from states and provinces always rank the likelihood of agents being assaulted in the performance of their duties among the highest of any peace officer category. Agents work at difficult times, under circumstances decidedly to their disadvantage with barely adequate equipment and backup. They are widely expected to produce both satisfied customers and thoroughly subdued villains by the crowd of Monday morning quarterbacks that gather in judgement in barber shops, courts and political meetings. They usually succeed despite this array of disadvantages and, along the way, also manage to raise happy, healthy families. Conservation agents form the core of all truly successful conservation programs.

Many agents are asked how they got started in a conservation career. I can clearly recall the day in high school when a Missouri conservation agent with a Charlie Schwartz nature film arrived and talked to me and our biology class about the importance of conservation. My first job out of school required me to take full conservation officer training and participate in enforcement activities throughout the year. It was the best training possible for someone embarking on a conservation career. It left me with an unshakeable confidence in the ability of conservation agents and officers to handle every aspect of their job, when given the backing they have a right to expect from administrators and the freedom to use their skills.

As director of the Conservation Department I am doing all I can to help our agents inspire future generations. I'm hoping, too, that the articles in this issue and the hospitality shown at our St. Louis meeting also serve as ways for Missouri conservationists and professionals to acknowledge and thank the uniformed men and women who risk so much to stand up for natural resources.