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The Thin Green Line

Last month I took part in a graduation ceremony for 19 new Missouri conservation agents. The graduates completed six months of training and study in our Conservation Agent Academy and are now part of a workforce others have described as “the thin green line,” a small, professional, dedicated and well-trained cadre of conservation law enforcement officers.

For many of them, becoming an agent was their motivation through years of college and hard work prior to admission to the academy. I understand this because I followed the same path more than 30 years ago.

My perspective has changed with time. I smile at the thought that the new agents in 2009 are about the age of my sons! It is more sobering to think of the responsibilities and the risks they will take because of their devotion to protecting Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife. They, and those who have traveled this career path before them, have my respect, admiration and gratitude. I also have a special appreciation for the agents’ families because the public expects a great deal of agents, and, often, this comes at the family’s expense.

The agents have a key role in providing customer service and earning public trust. They are educators, sources of conservation information, and ambassadors for fish, forest and wildlife resources. While this is also true for many conservation professionals, the distinction is that the agent is sworn and trained to enforce the Missouri Wildlife Code and related state laws. The most successful agents I have known were firm and consistent in enforcing the law, but they were also fair and compassionate toward others.

Agents are devoted to helping landowners, sportsmen and sportswomen, and all citizens with interest in the outdoors. Their devotion often manifests itself in their work to apprehend and deter those who act unfairly and disrespectfully to harm wildlife resources or violate the rights of property owners. The majority of our citizens are respectful of fish and wildlife laws, and considerate of the rights of others. But, alas, some are not.

The agents want to be partners with landowners. In my years as an agent, I relied on many trusted landowners who kept me informed when my presence was needed. I took satisfaction in addressing the problems they reported, and I know that other agents feel the same way.

There are seasons in life, and, last month, as the new agents completed their academy training, I saw in their faces the excitement of hope and challenge as they enter a new season in their lives. I have no doubt they will produce a better conservation outcome for Missouri.

Public cooperation is still the key to apprehending poachers, and you can help by reporting crimes if you witness them. Please put your agent’s and the Operation Game Thief ((800) 392-1111) numbers in your phone. Your fish and wildlife resources deserve protection from abuse, and Missouri citizens deserve protection from poachers, trespassers and vandals. I invite you to get to know your agent and to be an extension of his or her eyes and ears. Together, we can make a difference; it’s the right thing to do.

John Hoskins, director

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